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The folly of Cyprus politics

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Liberal democracies thrive only if the parties that make up their political system abide by fundamental liberal principles. Freedom of elections is one of them.

But how candidates are selected is a trivial matter that many countries and parties comply only with the letter rather than the spirit of their own laws.

Take, for example, Russia. Nobody runs against Putin. Why? It is futile if not dangerous.

Back to our small island state, the only ‘liberal’ party elected its chair four years ago unopposed.

Averof Neophytou was the only one to run at the time.

Running for the leadership of a party is one thing but running for president of a country is another.

Just because there weren’t any candidates back then doesn’t mean nobody else could run for president from the party.

Or that being chair of the party automatically makes one the chosen candidate.

Last summer, when it became clear that the former foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides would run for office, Averof Neophytou offered him the choice to go through the party’s election process.

That is, party members would vote for a party leader, and then the leader would be the party’s presidential candidate.

However, most people knew that such elections would be rigged because most party members were friends or allies of Neophytou.

Christodoulides didn’t bother with the bait and ran on his platform, drawing allies mostly from the nationalist centre.

But at least one in three voters from the ruling Democratic Rally supports Christodoulides, according to most opinion polls.

And one in three voters will either abstain from voting or cast a blank vote.

Dislike

There are many reasons why voters don’t like Neophytou.

The most obvious is that he supported policies that favoured the rich or led to massive corruption scandals, such as the collapse of the Cooperative Bank in 2018 and later the Golden Passports.

In addition, Neophytou supported the outgoing president in handling the Cyprus problem despite disagreeing with him, according to a book published by Makarios Droushiotis, a former presidential aide who wrote “Crime at Crans Montana” referring to the last UN-sponsored Cyprus negotiations in July 2017 at the Swiss resort.

Perhaps, the greatest failure of Neophytou is his inability to create a truly democratic process that would have allowed other candidates to run for office.

Such a process would have tempted potential candidates such as Christos Stylianides, who currently serves in Greece as Minister for the Climate Crisis and Civil Protection.

He also successfully served as the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management from 2014 until 2019, where he excelled at promoting the Commission’s agenda.

He has cultivated relations with many European leaders, including the Turkish minister of foreign affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis saw his talent and abilities as a Commissioner and chose to appoint him, even though he was not a Greek national.

Stylianides always had high political ambitions, and running for the highest office was perhaps his ultimate one.

Still, in the end, he saw it as a futile proposition despite many of his friends in Cyprus trying to convince him and other local leaders, including Averof Neophytou, to support him.

None was interested.

Neophytou felt that it was his turn to run for office; if he was to lose, he could always try next time.

But by paying lip service to the democratic process in his party, Neophytou has condemned it to defeat.

Perhaps the time has come for a new liberal party free from corruption and old-style political manoeuvring.

No doubt, Neophytou is a master tactician.

Last year, he managed to elect a member of his party as Speaker of the House, Annita Demetriou, despite the Opposition holding the majority.

But Neophytou has run out of tactics and seems poised to lose, ironically, to a worse candidate than him.

Christodoulides leads the polls by a steady margin of 8-9%.

He would win enough votes in the first round to be the leading candidate in the run-off.

And he will win by a landslide whoever stands against him.

Neophytou’s almost certain defeat will be his own making.