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12° Nicosia,
01 February, 2023
 
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The fierce battle for second place

Averof Neofytou and Andreas Mavroyiannis enter the final stretch with serious dilemmas

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

Polls capture the moment, they are not a mirror of the ballot box, and much could be upended in the home stretch. But what all the polls without exception so far demonstrate is the safe lead of Nikos Christodoulides in the first round and a tough battle between Averof Neophytou and Andreas Mavroyiannis for a place in the second round.

Nikos Christodoulides is determined to maintain his lead at all costs, while the staff of Neofytou and Mavroyiannis are closely monitoring the polls to determine their strategy for the final stretch. The end of the holiday season is a critical turning point in the election campaign for the staff of all three candidates. Averof Neofytou emphasizes his ability to steer the ship, particularly the economy, and names Constantinos Petridis as his main horse. Andreas Mavroyiannis presents a 100-day plan of government and aims to catch votes from the Centre and from the Leftists who abstain from the ballot box.

Averof's personal bet and "capable leadership"

The high-confrontational tone of the election campaign against Nikos Christodoulides is troubling, as it has so far not resulted in a blow to the former Foreign Minister.

Demetris Demetriou, spokesman for the party, and Vassilis Demetriades, deputy minister of shipping, explained to the audience at DISY's National Congress last week why the potential election of Nikos Christodoulides would be risky for the nation. An Averof Neofytou supporter present at the event later reminded them of Mitterrand's tactics. That under Mitterrand's philosophy, the objective is to emphasize your own virtues rather than those of your adversary, as doing so allows your adversary room and time to develop. The two politicians were embarrassed by the remark, and it brought to light one of the central concerns of Averof's election campaign—that everything becomes a bet between Averof Neofytou and Pindarou and the former foreign minister.

But what exactly is a personal bet? According to political circles around him, Averof Neofytou believed that he deserved to be the only candidate of the DISY because of his years of involvement in politics and his successful elections, and certainly not Nikos Christodoulides, who, unlike him, never crumbled, never took part in an election, and never faced political consequences for his decisions. But this is precisely what became a personal matter, or for others, a personal determination to win, leading to the fact that he continued the election campaign through to the end despite the unfavorable results of the polls for him. All along the way, his main objective was to deconstruct the candidacy of Nikos Christodoulides.

A long-drawn election campaign

This is the exact situation that poses two risks. The first is fatigue from a long campaign. Given the length of previous election campaigns and Averof Neophytou's premature entry into the race, a long election campaign can be exhausting.

We saw it happen in the case of Nicolas Papadopoulos, and perhaps Averof Neofytou will experience it on polling day. Officials close to him, of course, emphasize that if he had not begun the election campaign so early, his lead over Nikos Christodoulides would be greater today.

The second risk is a negative election campaign. If the members of DISY themselves took notice after the 2021 parliamentary elections, it is that the voters punished the opposition for the high level of confrontation. And, based on polls, it appears that the emphasis on deconstructing Nikos Christodoulides is not helping Averof Neofytou's candidacy.

The President's proposal

In this context, the emphasis is now on the DISY President's ability to govern. He has already launched his election campaign with an emphasis on capability and with the campaign slogan "capable leadership". The candidate's image is avoided in the advertisements, but his initials are used. It is related to the focus group results, which show that while Averof Neofytou is not the most popular candidate, he is recognized as having the ability to govern. He has emphasized the resolution of the Cyprus problem, but primarily the economic issue. In other words, Cyprus requires someone who can handle difficult situations.

Of course, given that the economy is doing well - as Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides emphasized - it is difficult to persuade voters to support you based on fear. In addition, he demonstrates that he is prepared for generous benefits that the Cypriot economy can clearly bear by making specific proposals like small subsidies if elected. Aside from the emphasis on the economy, Averof Neophytou has already named his finance minister and presented him as the election campaign's big trump card.

Supporters are a source of concern

The question is who Neofytou can bring together. Already his party's rallying point appears alarmingly low. He is likely the first party leader to run for office that has the support of half of his party (49%). There are of course many explanations for this phenomenon. It is Mr. Neofytos' low popularity, either because he failed to establish strong ties with his voters early on, because Nikos Christodoulides appears to appeal to them more, or because we are entering a period of strong disapproval of party leaders. It is no coincidence that Mr. Neofytou, along with Christos Christou, is the only party leader to enter the fray. It is possibly a combination of all three scenarios that make it difficult for the Coalition Party to rally. In this context, the support of Nicos Anastasiades may help in the final stretch. There is a chance that Nikos Anastasiades will propose Averof Neofytou at the announcement event. After all, this is what is being considered, while the daughter of Glafkos Clerides will be by his side, claiming the rallying of the old army voters. It is interesting, of course, that Averof Neofytou has supporters from ELAM, which certainly shows that his turn on the migration issue - building a fence - has paid off. He also appears to have some supporters from the Democratic Party, and his main concern appears to be young voters. A voting pool that most likely supports Nikos Christodoulides.  What worries Neofytou's staff is whether they should start the anti-acceleration battle in order to rally DISY. Many people are expressing their dissatisfaction with this debate, which could lead to AKEL siding with Mavroyiannis.

Mavroyiannis unveiled the Center's strategy

The first 100  days of government, combined with the possibility of announcing an economic plan, aim to shake off the weakness in the economy.

Last week, Andreas Mavroyiannis attended an AKEL event and assured those present that he would be the winner of the elections. He even invited them to the Presidential Palace on 1 March so that they could celebrate the "change" with his election.  It remains to be seen whether this was an attempt by Mavroyiannis to reverse the defeatist climate in the victory performance (based on a poll conducted for "K" by Symmetron Market Research, he received only 8%) or an improvement in his psychology given the new personalities joining his side and the relative increase in his ratings.

Andreas Mavroyiannis, on the other hand, entered the election campaign later than Averof Neofytou. The fact that he was waiting for AKEL to officially endorse him to run as a candidate increased independent voters' suspicion that he is a candidate who is completely reliant on AKEL. Given his inexperience as a candidate in his TV appearances and statements, he sent the message that he was not prepared for this battle. Given his statements that the election campaign is a test for him, the question then became whether he is ready to govern, in what capacity, and if he truly wants to.

Andreas Mavroyiannis's first goal is to rally AKEL. Although AKEL's rally is not particularly low, reaching 65%, it is also not considered high, given that Stavros Malas was rallying AKEL to 78.3% at the same time five years ago. The reasons for AKEL's current difficulties are numerous. Some argue that the party's differing position on what happened in Crans Montana makes it difficult for supporters of the solution who believe our side is seriously responsible for the outcome.

This reservoir appears to favor Achilleas Demetriades, who is primarily supported by DISY, while a segment of AKEL voters believes Andreas Mavroyiannis is "another right-wing candidate" who will not challenge the status quo. It's unclear whether they'll change their minds in the final stretch of the election, but his decision to open the Drussiotis chapter has reportedly gained him points.

The second goal is to enlist a larger number of centrist voters. The AKEL leadership insisted on Mavroyiannis' candidacy, believing it to be diverse, but this did not appear to be entirely true.  Although no political force has officially backed him, the personalities standing beside him (Attalidou, Assiotis, Ellinas, Zamboglou, Protopapas, Lazarou) appear to have played a role in changing the one-party climate. In this context, he appears to be launching a centrist strategy, aiming to bring together voters from DIKO, DPA, and EDEK in order to collect the 15% of small parties that failed to gain parliamentary representation. It also hopes to bring together those left-wing voters (out of 53,000) who have not voted since 2016.  Already, according to the K poll, he appears to have 11% of those who abstained from the 2021 parliamentary elections, which is not a large number, but it should not be overlooked that the percentage of support for Mavroyiannis among those who abstained has more than doubled since the October poll.

Andreas Mavroyiannis' main goal is to demonstrate his ability to govern. Confusion over the public debt and the deficit has raised the ire of those whose primary concern is the economy. In this context, the recent thoughts have been to announce an economic staff. It's a topic that's been hotly debated in the last month, especially since the Finance Minister threw down the gauntlet to the other candidates.  Lazarou and Assiotis will be crucial in this economic battle. Andreas Mavroyiannis' main bet, however, is the presentation of his administration's first 100 days, which will take place on January 23 in front of young scientists and journalists. It is something George Vassiliou did as a candidate and was elected to do, but it is also a sign of commitment on the part of the candidate to his potential voters. 

[This op-ed was translated from its Greek original]

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