The presidential election campaign, well underway with over a dozen candidates coming forward, could be as divisive for Cyprus as for the rest of Europe, bracing for an energy crisis, rising inflation and major corporate rescuing.
A decade ago, the EU suffered a euro crisis, followed by the migrant crunch, the coronavirus impact and now the Ukraine-Russia war with reverberations ripping through European member states, society, and institutions.
The EU’s unity is being challenged again with ‘solidarity’ no longer on the table. Rather, it’s everyone for themself.
Similarly, a year after the disastrous Mari explosion that paralysed the economy and the political sphere, Cyprus faced its worst financial crisis a decade ago, with the banking sector meltdown and subsequent bailout.
As a result, businesses were decimated, and household incomes and savings were wiped out, eliminating the middle class from the equation.
That same middle-class Cyprus relied on to keep the economy moving for decades and the ‘economic miracle’ that followed the devastating 1974 Turkish invasion.
That has now disappeared, with a new middle class, primarily civil servants, utility, and bank employees who retired or took early retirement, believing they would enjoy their final years before a healthy pension based on the golden handshakes they received.
Those funds are also being depleted due to rising costs, repossession of homes, limited employment opportunities and a growing trend to search for better fortunes on other shores.
Some consider coming out of retirement to make ends meet, while the long-term unemployed still cannot find work due to the distorted labour market or employers seeking younger, cheaper hands, albeit with little experience or knowledge.
No candidate has come forth with a clear plan and suggestions on how to re-balance the situation by giving job opportunities to the young and relying on the skills and know-how of those in their mid-50s and early-60s.
According to the first opinion polls, former diplomat and ex-foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides is a strong favourite to win the presidency in February, supported by half the ruling DISY party and pockets of centre-right DIKO.
The other two ‘front runners’ are also heirs of the Anastasiades presidency – DISY leader Averof Neophytou and former Cyprus problem negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis – backed by the opposition AKEL.
Ironically, they all talk of ‘change’ as if they were never part of the 10-year administration but have yet to propose anything of substance, either on the economy or for society.
The passports scandal that tarnished the government’s reputation, corruption, and indecisiveness in how to proceed with tackling the island’s division, will tarnish all three candidates.
And yet, they still enjoy some measure of popularity.
That is where it gets ugly.
Independents, such as human rights activist Achilleas Demetriades, former University of Cyprus Rector Constantinos Christofides, politician Giorgos Colocassides, lawyer Marios Eliades and telecom entrepreneur Christodoulos Protopapas, have clear plans on many issues but do not have the luxury of the taxpayer-subsidised campaigns afforded to the party-sponsored candidates.
A lot of truths will come out – from abandoning efforts to rescue Famagusta to battling poverty and a cleaner, cheaper, green-energy society – and we will see heated debates that result in, once again, frustrated voters.
Cyprus is long past the age of populism when slogans would win votes.
We need action, realistic arguments, and a genuine willingness to reform the country.
Those candidates who are unconvincing should be thrown into the recycle bin.
We must detox the political scene and usher a new generation of leaders to govern Cyprus.
We deserve better only if we become the champions of change, not defenders of hypocrisy.