Interview with Stefanos Stefanou,
General Secretary of the C.C. of AKEL Stefanos Stefanou
Sunday 12 June 2022, “Kathimerini” newspaper
QUESTION: By deciding to support the candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis, does this mean that you have spoken and come to an agreement on the core issues?
SS: There are convergences on the core issues, those that determine the course of the country and society. On the Cyprus problem, there is a common recognition that it is imperative that specific initiatives are taken for a resumption of the negotiations from the point where they were interrupted at Crans Montana, making use of the body of work that has been created at the negotiations. We also agree that the energy issue can provide tools and incentives to create momentum for the resumption of the negotiations.
QUESTION: You have been criticised that you are supporting the man who was Anastasiades’ right-hand man, who handled the Cyprus problem at Crans Montana and with whom you had disagreements on key points.
SS: Andreas Mavroyiannis was negotiator for the Greek Cypriot side and not the President’s right-hand man. The responsibility of the handling of the Cyprus problem lies with the President of the Republic of Cyprus, from time to time with the contribution of the National Council (Note: advisory body to the given President of the Republic with the participation of parliamentary parties and former Presidents). The negotiator’s role is to promote and implement the policy decided by the given government. Yes, we have differences on issues either with regards the handling of the Cyprus problem or on narratives, especially about Crans-Montana. A key difference is that we believe that the President of the Republic did not exhaust all the options he had at his disposal and as a result he was held jointly responsible by the UN Secretary General for the collapse of the conference, while Turkey left the conference without being assigned responsibilities.
QUESTION: Is there a different interpretation regarding the staying of Turkish troops?
SS: We have a different understanding of what was proposed and what Turkey was prepared to do. But we also have issues that we agree on, such as whether or not the President of the Republic should have submitted proposals at Crans-Montana. There were disagreements on the part of former Foreign Minister, who insisted that proposals must not be tabled. We were of the opinion that proposals should have been submitted, and I must say that Mr. Mavroyiannis agreed with us. So there were points where we agreed, there were also different approaches and assessments made. That does not alter the essence in terms of what must to be done now from here onwards.
QUESTION: On the economy, do you think that Mr. Mavroyiannis can meet your requirements?
SS: You realise that no President can handle all the issues on his own. Who makes up the government and who his advisers are does matter. On economic policy there are two main axes. The first is economic policy itself and the second is how you wealth is redistributed. I have to say that Andreas Mavroyiannis has knowledge of economic issues and I will give two characteristic examples.
During Cyprus’ European Presidency, he handled and promoted the seven-year financial framework with great success and secondly, during Mavroyiannis’ presidency of the 5th United Nations Commission for the 2019-2020 period, everyone acknowledged that he did a very good job on the budgets, administration and financial management of the Organisation.
QUESTION: Will AKEL participate in a possible government formed by Andreas Mavroyiannis?
SS: The issue of AKEL’s participation or not is something we have not discussed considering that it is too premature. We are more interested in having a say in the formulation of programmatic positions and policies. What we are interested in at the moment is what we will do to promote the candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis and of course AKEL’s participation in the programme too.
QUESTION: So you have not talked about assuming specific Ministries?
SS: No. Besides, for us, the question of power, the distribution of Ministries or other institutions are not priority issues. We are primarily interested in bringing about change.
QURESTION: Is it not an oxymoron to talk about an independent candidacy since AKEL’s decision determined its announcement?
SS: What Mr. Mavroyiannis has said is that he would be interested (to be a candidate) if he has the support of at least one major party. So it became clear to us that we could discuss his name without any pre-coordination. His candidacy is independent, since he does not belong to any party and it is clear and understandable that he will have his own programme and team.
QUESTION: So the AKEL election campaign team will not work in this direction?
SS: Of course it will! In parallel and in coordination with Mr. Mavroyiannis’ team. Furthermore, the work of the team will be directed both towards the electoral base of the Party and towards society in general. But it will be distinct from that of the candidate.
QUESTION: Will AKEL’s positions be included in the election programme?
SS: As long as we see that there are convergences on key issues, there is also the guarantee that no positions will be included that nullify us.
QUESTION: Polls show that AKEL voters choose the independent candidacy of Achilleas Demetriades.
SS: Polls you understood reflect trends in the period in which they are conducted. We know that it takes a lot of work for us to convince our people and at the same time to open up to society in order to get our message across. We have a long way to go, but we also have good prospects.
QUESTION: Why Andreas Mavroyiannis?
SS: When you decide on elections, first of all you do so based on your own approach and the framework you want to move in. The aim is to put an end to the downward slide the country is on and to bring about a progressive change in the country.
Having measured all the facts and conditions, the balance of forces, society’s perceptions, the possibility of achieving political transcendence so as to forge cooperation between parties and social forces, we decided that we need a personality from the broader spectrum. That is precisely why, even when the objective of cooperation at a leadership level was not yet achieved, we stuck to the option of supporting an independent candidate. We concluded on the candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis. We have, of course, taken into account his whole career and the influence he can have in society.
QUESTION: Did you also hear the rumors that the Party’s General Secretary had failed to impose his own position in relation to the candidate?
SS: Yes, I have heard them and let me say that this is not the case. We went through a long process of discussing and evaluating many names. The final decision was the result of synthesis and dialogue.
QUESTION: Is AKEL responsible for the failure forge cooperation with the Democratic Party DIKO?
SS: Cooperations take time. Especially in the last period a lot of work has been done, the atmosphere during the discussions was good, but in the end we disagreed on how to proceed. We tried very hard to forge this cooperation, but unfortunately it did not yield results. But we did not close the door (of cooperation) and we went ahead with an independent candidacy to keep this perspective open.
QUESTION: So is DIKO responsible for the deadlock?
SS: Everyone is judged by the end result. You realise that cooperation does not always depend on one party. It is evident that we had disagreements. I don’t like to assign responsibility so easily, I prefer to stick to the facts. We had a different perspective on who could express and lead this effort (of change).
QUESTION: The question was raised, however, how could you manage to reach an agreement on the presidential election when you weren’t able to cooperate for the presidency of the House of Representative. Were there any mistaken handlings made at that time?
SS: Yes, mistakes were made and cooperation was not achieved that would probably have subsequently helped developments. I think the main message that emerges is that there should be a better dialogue and an effort to have a better understanding of the positions on both sides. This does not necessarily lead to cooperation, but it is a prerequisite for it to be achieved.
QUESTION: Why did you not want to have contacts with Nikos Christodoulides?
SS: We ruled this out, because you cannot discuss change with a senior member of the government. He is a DISY party member, that’s his right. However, given that we disagree on so many issues and we blame DISY for many of the problems our country is facing today, why discuss with a person who declares that he himself is proud of the work of the Anastasiades-DISY government?
QUESTION: Wasn’t Andreas Mavroyiannis a member of the government?
SS: No negotiator is a member of the government. A negotiator is responsible for the handling of the Cyprus problem that the President assigns to him, and not for the decisions that are taken. Nicos Anastasiades has now appointed a negotiator, Menelaos Menelaou, who does not belong to DISY, but to another political spectrum, valuing his knowledge and experience.
QUESTION: However, there are also reactions among the people of AKEL that this particular candidacy does not express them.
SS: I think that the whole procedure shows that we are discussing, understanding and trying to explain why we have come to the specific choice that covers the core pillars. From there onwards, you have a choice if you want to proceed with your own candidate then the situation change. In the discussions we had, the issue was primarily not that Mr. Mavroyiannis would not be a suitable candidate, but that we should go with our own candidacy or that we must do everything we can to win the elections. So it was out of this balance that we came to this decision.
QUESTION: Is it a choice that can be victorious?
SS: If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have made it. I think that an important factor in creating momentum is for people to feel that elections can be won, and that can be done with Andreas Mavroyiannis.
QUESTION: How can he pass to the second round and get support from other parties when he has already been rejected by DIKO?
SS: A reference was made to his name when we were still at the stage of sounding out opinions (with DIKO). We did not enter into a discussion about Andreas Mavroyiannis, because we did not know at that time his intention to contest the election.
QUESTION: Might someone accuse AKEL of misogyny? Why were the options of Irini Charalambidou, Erato Kozakou Markouli and Christiana Erotokritou not even put up for discussion?
SS: First of all, there was no real debate surrounding Christiana. I appreciate her as a politician, but she is still in the leadership core of DIKO. As far as Erato and Irini are concerned, we took into account all the facts and especially what prospects were there to penetrate society more broadly and to achieve broader consensus with the prospect of victory.
QUESTION: I will insist in relation to Irini Charalambidou, who the polls showed that she was trending and seemed to be supported by other parties.
SS: No party, in the contacts we had, made any reference to Irini Charalambidou. In relation to opinion polls, it is not enough to be popular; you have to measure many other factors so as not to face any surprise. Irini is popular among the party, but that isn’t enough.
QUESTION: So it’s not a question of misogyny?
SS: Far from it. We criticise ourselves because we have not succeeded to the extent that we want to have more women involved in the party processes and to take up leading positions.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that you may be blamed for a possible decline in the party’s percentages?
SS: For us the goal is to do well and that means winning the presidential elections for Cyprus and the people. When you are in a big party like AKEL and you are the first among equals you have to be ready to take the first and last responsibility. If I was not ready to take on such responsibilities, I would not have stood for the General Secretary of the party.
Interview with Stefanos Stefanou,