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‘Pro-Russian’ presidential candidate causes rift

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Unlike past presidential races, the 2023 one has begun almost a year earlier than usual.

Some believe that Achilleas Demetriades, a well-known human rights lawyer with moderate and pro-solution views, kick-started the race last September when he announced his intention to run for office.

Then stories began to appear about another candidate; only this one was the minister of foreign affairs.

Nicos Christodoulides has been preparing the ground for months, intending to run for president in February 2023.

He’s been delivering speeches on almost every occasion and holding press conferences in a bid to boost his profile.

A recent book, “The Crime in Cans-Montana” by Makarios Droushiotis, an investigative journalist and former close aid to president Anastasiades, documented how Christodoulides leaked information related to developments in talks for the Cyprus problem to journalists.

He offered substantial evidence on his role to stall negotiations in line with Russian policy on Cyprus.

Droushiotis explained that Russian foreign policy’s objectives in the region are to cause a rift within NATO and draw Turkey out of the alliance and closer to Eurasia.

A solution to the Cyprus problem, on the other hand, according to Droushiotis, would strengthen regional cooperation and reduce rivalries among two NATO allies in the south-eastern Mediterranean.

Christodoulides succeeded Ioannis Kasoulides, a veteran politician and perhaps the most respected diplomat of the ruling Democratic Rally party.

Kasoulides resigned his post in 2018, refusing to be part of Anastasiades’ second term in office.

According to our sources, Kasoulides was fed up with Anastasiades’ cat-and-mouse policy on the Cyprus problem, according to people close to him.

Droushiotis, in his book (p. 301), referred to an incident where president Anastasiades for the first time, raised the issue of “a two-state solution in return for land”.

Kasoulides, according to the book, reacted swiftly, telling the president “not to ever say such things again”.

Averof Neophytou, the chair of the ruling party, responded along the same lines.

Neophytou belongs to the traditional pro-solution camp of politicians with pro-western views.

Although he has failed to convince Anastasiades to stay on course and seize the opportunity presented at Cans-Montana for a lasting solution in Cyprus, he maintains that a bi-zonal solution is the only way forward.

But he is now facing a challenger from his own party.

Despite repeated calls for unity, Christodoulides refuses to follow the party’s procedures and submit his candidacy to a vote on the party’s council.

Clearly, Christodoulides believes he has no chance of beating Neophytou this way.

Under this scenario, Christodoulides will keep his post in the government, but he will have to support Neophytou in the election race later this year.

According to news reports and people familiar with the ruling party’s internal politics, Christodoulides feels he is a better candidate who can attract voters from a wider spectrum, unlike Neophytou. Perhaps so.

Financing

But one of the issues that will certainly come up in the elections is campaign financing.

Christodoulides’ nice-guy profile can get him so far, but no candidate stands a chance without strong financial support.

So, who is going to finance Christodoulides’ campaign?

This is a matter that all candidates will be compelled to respond to.

Already rumours began circling that Christodoulides has backers linked to Russian interests, but evidence has yet to appear.

The fact is that Russian oligarchs connected to Putin’s inner circle have long-standing business ties to Cyprus.

There should be no question that if Russia succeeded in penetrating the U.S. democratic system according to the Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election by special counsel Bob Mueller, it would not be hyperbole to think they will not stop short in doing so in Cyprus.

No matter what, pressure by president Anastasiades and Neophytou on Christodoulides to submit his interest to be a candidate through the appropriate party channels seems futile.

He will have to face the music unless Christodoulides changes his mind next week and yields to pressure.

Anastasiades will have no choice but to sack him from the cabinet, but he will have to find a suitable replacement.

On the other hand, Neophytou will have to come to terms with the realisation that he will go to the elections without his party’s full support.

As it stands, this will be the most likely scenario.

Michael S. Olympios is an economist, business advisor, Editorial Consultant to the Financial Mirror

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