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12° Nicosia,
14 April, 2021
 
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When the lights of the Palace begin to dim

The political isolation of the President is now being discussed openly, as is his refusal for any form of advice

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

The testimonies of 2013, say that in those critical days of the savings levy, there was a crowd of people on the hill of the presidential palace. Almost the entire Cabinet and close associates of the President were upset and had gathered in the office of the President’s undersecretary at the time Constantinos Petrides, worrying about what is to come and exchanging thoughts on whether the government will overcome the massive crisis. In that very context, one among those who had gathered wondered who was with Nicos Anastasiades in his office, drawing up a plan and attempting to engage the President in a comforting discussion. After eyes wandered around the room, they realised the answer was no one. And if we take into account what is documented in the book by Makarios Droussiotis ‘I Symmoria’ (‘The Gang’), that is, that when Constantinos Petrides took the initiative to wake the President up in order call an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss how to manage the news that the Popular Bank’s money was running out, with the President responding in a furious outburst that he was the one calling the shots, we can’t be surprised that his political staff at the time didn’t have the courage to be in the same office as him. But that was a major crisis of the President’s first five-year term, which came and went, and they say that they have learnt a lot from it. Whether it was forgotten is of course open to various interpretations. Some believe that the President’s second term in office, which was considered a walk in Palace’s park, has become one of the hardest political moments for the government and the President himself, right before the conclusion of his political career.

With the sun of his political career setting, then, the President does not only have to deal with the economy, the recovery of which is questionable due to the pandemic. What has recently been heard regarding other solution frameworks for the Cyprus Problem, the partial reopening of the fenced city of Famagusta and the Turkish challenges in the Cypriot EEZ, have led many to question the President's intentions for a solution to the Cyprus Problem and his ability to manage that chapter. This, in combination with the scandals that have arisen in light of the Cyprus Investment Program, as well as the book authored by the President’s former collaborator Makarios Droussiotis that is being circulated and discussed in the margins but not widely among the public, has tightened the noose around the Presidential Palace. It is in this context that the President’s national address and his testimony before the investigative committee probing the passports scheme fit in, months after the scandalous revelations.

The Koushios case

The big question is how Anastasiades will deal with these big issues and with whom on his side. The semiology of the President's presence before the investigative committee last week was indicative of how different the current situation is from that which had prevailed a few years ago. The "I did not know" about my son-in-law, "I do not remember" in what position the niece of the first lady works in the Ministry of Interior, was considered by many as being at best a - poorly - prepared deposition and at worst a cover-up attempt. At his side was the Director of the President’s Office Petros Demetriou to assist the President with documents, while next to him was the member of his diplomatic office Pantelis Pantelides, and in the back was he government spokesman Kyriakos Koushios. The President's relationship with his close friend and now collaborator Kyriakos Koushios was not the desired one. Not that the friendship of the two has been affected but there is an issue in terms of cooperation and coordination. Mr. Koushios has not managed to be the "Kouros" of Nicos Anastasiades, as was the original design. Nor is he the person who will speak openly and honestly to the President about mistakes and omissions. Obviously not because he has not tried, but because the President himself, as they say, does not listen. Something that happened in a way when Nikos Christodoulides was in that position.

The political team gone

Of course, during Christodoulides’ time as government spokesman, the situation was quite different on the hill of the Palace. The people of the Palace were, after all, pure politicians who were launching their political careers and were certainly not willing to throw it to the dogs by agreeing with everything the President said. Back then te team included Christodoulides, the close associate of Anastasiades during his time at DISY, Constantinos Petrides, and for a while the director of the Office of the President Michalis Sophocleous. The group was joined in the morning coffee by experienced politicians such as Ioannis Kasoulides, Ionas Nikolaou, Socrates Hasikos, the younger Harris Georgiades and of course the President of DISY Averof Neophytou. Today the situation is quite different, if one takes into account that the first three have already retired politically and the relations between Averof and the President are not ideal. The most experienced politician on the hill is Deputy Minister Vasilis Palmas, who has chosen to keep a low profile and avoids publicity for various reasons.

His old close associates, such as Christodoulides, Georgiades, and Petrides, have inevitably due to other duties been removed from the daily friction and the attempts to save the President’s profile. Nikos Christodoulides has to manage the developments in the Cyprus issue and the criticisms in foreign policy. A positive development is seen as vital for bettering the President’s political position amidst ongoing criticism and shifting the negativity of the agenda. The resignation of Harris Georgiades from his government post after the Co-op Bank findings, has removed him from the Palace but without losing his good relationship with the President. Constantinos Petrides has been under special pressure lately, particularly in view of the Cyprus Investment Program as he was a minister who expressed his disagreement with the scheme in the meetings. But now, as Finance Minister, he is now under a second source of pressure. The fact that he has clarified in an interview with "Haravgi" that upon the completion of his term in the Ministry of Finance he will be resigning from political life, certainly has its own significance. This in itself says a lot, as does the fact that all the politicians who make up the Cabinet have avoided supporting the national address of President Anastasiades, despite the fact that the Palace had sent out a signal for support. And the signal was not sent accidentally, since the Palace is disgruntled over the fact that unlike the first term, the current Cabinet is diligently avoiding any support for communication management.

How far the situation will go, of course, is an issue that is being hotly debated in small puddles in the party. And it is being discussed because it is a common secret for many that the President does not listen to what anyone says, nor is he ready to accept any criticism. What seems to be causing a stir is that many within the Cabinet disagree with the way the President handled the whole golden passports situation. While there are ardent supporters of the removal of the auditor general, a number of Cabinet members believe that a complete rupture at this juncture only causes damage to the government. There are also those, both within DISY and in the government, who believe that the President’s nervy attitudes, such as those exhibited during his national address, probably ignited the troubled climate. It is argued that the President took a few months to speak and briefly closed the issue of passports, intensifying opposition. In this context, everyone's eyes have now shifted to the Cyprus issue, which is seen as the President’s last resort to regaining the trust of a section of the public, but also to overshadow everything that is seeing the light of day and especially the most recent hot issue of his trip to the Seychelles.

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