President Nikos Christodoulides in his televised address on the occasion of his first year in office (Photo: Stavros Ioannides/PIO)

President’s “mistakes were made” speech was ‘unconvincing’

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Nikos Christodoulides’ cross-channel appearance on his first year in office, aimed at appeasing public concerns amid a dropping rate of popularity, failed to deliver, according to opposition parties, with one critic even suggesting the president’s stance on the Cyprus problem was “dangerous”.

Interviewed by the news directors of the island’s five leading TV channels on Tuesday night, Christodoulides admitted that “mistakes were made”, referring to a number of appointments that were rescinded or associates who were sacked, but that these were not harmful to society.

He repeated several times that he had raised the bar quite high, “and will remain high for myself and my government.”

In an attempt to fend off criticism that he was the protégé of former president Nicos Anastassiades, yet was supported by centre-right parties in the election a year ago, Christodoulides said he was a “party orphan”, responding to a remark from the CyBC anchor that some of his choices were left behind in order to satisfy coalition partners’ preferences for Cabinet and other appointments.

“All the choices were mine, and the responsibility was mine as well,” he said.

By the president’s own admission, the mistakes included overtime paid to government officials on duty over weekends, personal posts on social media using government accounts, and the “unsatisfactory” checks for certain appointments.

“We are all judged by the result of our choices,” the president said, adding that for the mistakes mentioned, they were immediately rectified.

Christodoulides stated that it is his responsibility as President to ensure the functioning of the institutions and spoke of “excellent relations” with Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides. Institutional reforms are in the pipeline, he said, to ensure the smooth functioning of the institutions.

“The easiest thing for me was to be liked by announcing support measures. I didn’t do it and I won’t. I had to have a surplus budget to proceed with targeted measures, and not across the board,” he said. “I am the President, and I have to behave responsibly.”

As regards his first Cabinet reshuffle, just ten months into his administration, Christodoulides said, “I do not have the convenience of being patient with my ministers.”

On the Cyprus problem, he said, “I will not present the people with a solution plan that I myself do not support. I will take responsibility whatever that may be.”

No other option

Responding to public doubts whether he supports the UN-proposed plan for a bizonal, bicommunal federation with the Turkish Cypriots, Christodoulides said, “there is no other option for a Cyprus solution. The current situation does not allow this country to utilise all its potential. I am here to do what I can to solve the Cyprus issue. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t invest so much time in this effort. Every Cypriot citizen has the right to choose where to live in his own country.”

Main opposition party AKEL said on Wednesday that the president’s interview added nothing new.

“The biggest problem, however, is that Mr. Christodoulidis did not understand what the problem is, that is, the reason for his falling popularity at an unprecedented rate and that the majority of people declare they are disappointed with him and his government.

“He insists that his government’s problem is one of communication. What he needs to understand – and fix – is that the government lacks vision, understanding of society’s needs and lacks in the ability to govern.

“We do not ignore the work that has been achieved in certain areas, which we supported and continue to support. But the big picture is unfortunately different.”

AKEL said that critical issues include rising inflation and stagnant household incomes, lack of measures to support vulnerable people, tolerance of the corruption attributed to the previous administration in which he served, and missing timelines in the process towards a solution of the Cyprus problem.

Christodoulides should not seek excuses, AKEL said, adding that he is not a “party orphan”.

“He is a genuine political choice of DISY and Nicos Anastasiades and now co-governs with DIKO, EDEK, DIPA and whenever needed he also has the votes of (extreme right) ELAM.”

Magnitude of real problems

In its response, the other opposition party, Democratic Rally (DISY), said, “the President does not realise the magnitude of the real problems. Nor does shifting blame on others indicate that the right messages are given. We expect more decisiveness, boldness and accountability from this government, and less communication strategies.”

“The few beneficial measures that were done for the citizens were supported by DISY. From our side, we took responsibility when at stake was the stability of the country and the economy (forced property sales, budget), given the complete refusal of AKEL and the co-ruling parties’ problems of understanding,” said DISY, a full member of the European Popular Party.

It added that, “we disagreed with policies that were costly to citizens, such as the expansion of permanent spending and the discontinuation of fuel and electricity subsidies last summer.”

Government spokesman Constantinos Letympiotis responded later Wednesday, saying, “we have seen the alignment of views between DISY and AKEL,” saying this was justified as “we are entering a pre-election period.”

On June 6, apart from the six Cypriot members of the European Parliament, Cyprus will also elect 20 new mayors, about 95 deputy mayors and hundreds of municipal councillors.

The spokesperson said that, “yesterday, on the occasion of the completion of one year of government, the President presented through a brief message, but also by answering questions from journalists, the government’s actions in the first year.

“The work carried out by the government is fully in line with the goal we have set: improving the everyday life of citizens.”

Dionysis Dionysiou, chief editor of the outspoken daily Politis, said the president was “talkative, dishonest and dangerous.”

Speaking on ‘Politis Radio 107.6 FM’, he said President Christodoulides was too talkative and dishonest as he blamed the mistakes made on his other associates. Dionysiou then pointed out that the president is deemed as dangerous when handling the Cyprus issue.

Meanwhile, although not a party member of DISY, President Christodoulides left for Bucharest late on Wednesday to take part in the European Popular Party (EPP) assembly.

A government announcement said that on Thursday, “President Christodoulides will address the proceedings of the Plenary Session of the EPP, which will be concerned, among other things, with the Future of Europe and the European elections.

“On the sidelines of the EPP congress, the President is expected to have contacts with leaders of member states of the European Union participating in the EPP and with representatives of Union institutions,” the announcement said.

DISY leader and House President Annita Demetriou is already at the EPP congress, accompanied by MPs and Cypriot deputies from the European Parliament.