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21 May, 2024
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Presidential debate: Boring, hilarious and chaotic but otherwise satisfactory

The third presidential debate featured the seven candidates presenting their positions while cutting through the tension that was ever present

by Yiannis Ioannou

Averof Neophytou, Andreas Mavroyiannis, Nikos Christodoulides, Christos Christou, Achilleas Demetriades, Giorgos Kolokasidis, and Konstantinos Christofides clashed in another debate last night which was aired on TV stations Alpha, Ant1, Sigma, and Omega.

With the election in its final stretch, staff and party players working at full speed, and heightened tensions in terms of daily counter-arguments, the third inter-channel debate occurred.  Because of the format (typical TV, journalists standing up this time, timing of answers and rebuttals) of the many participants, it became more of a way in which the candidates were able to clarify issues and unequivocally state their positions through dialogue or outright confrontation (which was not lacking otherwise).

Public diplomacy

At the level of public diplomacy, the three main demographic contenders for the presidency have moved carefully and cautiously within the framework of the narratives they have so far set out in their election campaign, in order to avoid a major communication mistake. The recent developments (Mr. Christodoulides' removal from DISY and deletion from the registry following his interview in "K," Mr. Mavroyiannis' announcement of the financial staff, etc.) have monopolized interest in the presentation of the first round of questions. Mr. Neophytou's first question in the debate was accompanied by a compliment from the DISY candidate on the dress code (blue and white colors) of the panel's two women (Mrs. Kenevezou and Mrs. Argyrou) - which rather caused embarrassment than broke the ice of the debate.

Accordingly, the four non-mainstream candidates moved at roughly the same rate in the polls. Specifically, they will state their positions while also responding to current issues: Mr. Demetriades and Mr. Christofides initially monopolized the journalists' interest in the shambles of the initiative to unite the four independent candidates (i.e. with Iliades and Protopappa), each giving his own version, while Mr. Christou and Mr. Kolokasidis became the recipients of questions "related" to their ideological stance. With the ELAM candidate using typical populist/anti-immigrant rhetoric on immigration as the backbone of his narrative, and Mr. Kolokasidis explaining his views against the federation.

The debate format of seven candidates created "three leagues": one between three and the rest. The contest between Christou-Kolokasidis and Dimitriadis-Christofidis, two politicians with related positions and strategies, is one of the three main contenders. The debate was also staged, with the camera capturing a shot of Mr. Christodoulides and Mr. Neophytou every time one of them spoke.

The tactics

The three main candidates strategically avoided interacting with the four lesser candidates in order to maintain their advantage over their rivals. While Mr. Mavroyiannis attempted to deflect accusations of dependence on AKEL and to direct his fire at the two candidates "of the Anastasiades government," Mr. Neophytou played the party patriotism card, branding Mr. Christodoulides as a renegade.  Mr. Christodoulides' opening tactic for crisis management in recent days was to manage the DISY license for speaking with DISY cadres while he moved, as is his custom, in the outline of his programmatic positions with the customary constructive ambiguity that defines him. The Neophytou-Mavroyiannis and Neophytou-Christodoulides debates, which now show where we are in the election with the all VS all dominating, were the two main points of tension in a debate that was rather... slow.

Interesting was Mr. Demetriades' unequivocal declaration that he will support a candidate in the second round, citing even the consensus on the Cyprus issue as a key criterion. Mr. Demetriades is the apparent strongest of the four non-main candidates in terms of opinion polls. In a similar vein, Mr. Christofides cited additional justifications for the second-round selection in addition to the Cyprus issue. When Mr. Christodoulides mentioned in the same query that he would speak with the two political leaders (DISY and AKEL), Mr. Neophytou reacted immediately and accused him of being conceited with the help of a well-known Cypriot proverb.

The dispute between the three leading candidates was sparked by Kolokasidis' complaint about party sponsorship, which also caused tension between the two. Neophytou accused Christodoulides during the altercation. The latter repeatedly attacked Mr. Christodoulides and Mr. Mavroyiannis with a clear strategy of energizing the DISY hard-party audience as well as because the AKEL candidate's poll numbers had recently risen. In contrast to his first TV appearances, the latter was more nervous, but he used the passage of the question about the Cyprus problem to present himself as knowledgeable on the subject while demonstrating his ability to switch to a higher register by referring to the "ridiculousness" of two states. The defense employed by Mr. Christodoulides against Mr. Neophytou's criticisms of adaptability was transferred to the latter's announcement of ministers.

While Mr. Christofides, Mr. Christou, and Mr. Demetriades did not significantly advance the discussion beyond outlining positions, Mr. Kolokasidis deserves credit for setting the debate's agenda because his criticism of party sponsorship sparked the third inter-channel discussion, which provided the discussion with rhythm at the crucial moment. However, there was one moment in the case of Mr. Demetriades when the independent candidate got into a heated argument with Mr. Mavroyiannis over the Cyprus issue and made personal accusations.

In summary

Due to the format and the participation of seven candidates, the debate started out boring with some hilarious points. Coordination even failed at times, resulting in... chaos with overlapping speakers and "cockfighting". Without any "big news" (aside from the names of Mr. Zenios and Mr. Pissarides as Ministers of Finance of the candidates Demetriades and Christofides respectively) or any candidate making a significant mistake, the debate was kept interesting for viewing purposes by tension and confrontations. All of the candidates moved cautiously and with the intention of following well-worn communicative and strategic paths that have also been emerging over the past few weeks.


[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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