Stefanos Stefanou, “Kathimerini” newspaper

 

QUESTION: AKEL passed to the second round yet you remain in opposition for the third consecutive term…

SS: We did not achieve the goal of winning the elections, but we proved that our choice [for President] inspired the people of AKEL to wage this battle in a united and cohesive way. At the same time, the independent candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis brought people who are not affiliated to AKEL or even to the left to express a collective demand for real progressive change. That is precisely why I believe that the elections may not have been won, but the candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis created prospects for victory and this made the people of the Left proud of the battle it had waged.

QUESTION: Throughout this process, there was a feeling that AKEL was trying to hide its leading officials [from the media] and give assurances that Mavroyiannis would govern with others and not with AKEL.

SS: The Party’s cadres did not hide but participated until the very last moment, both in the election campaign team and in the discussion panels. I, as the leader of AKEL, had the most media appearances during the final stages of the election campaign. On the other hand, I have to reiterate that as a Party we supported an independent candidate so we participated in his representation together with others. I recall this fact because for months our political opponents have been trying to suggest to the people that the candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis was a tool in the hands of AKEL to return to power.

QUESTION: But it is as if you accept that AKEL has to hide…

SS: Not at all. We were present all the time! It is a fact that we have not been able to shake off an unjust arbitrary stain that our political opponents have pinned on us that AKEL supposedly destroyed the economy, or that AKEL cannot govern. We also took this into account when choosing to support a candidate, seeking to achieve the essential goal, which was to realise progressive change in the country. The goal was to create a balance between the demand for change and a personality that could attract broader forces.

It remains, however, one of the challenges for AKEL, namely how to shake off these arbitrary and erroneous perceptions that have been loaded on it.

QUESTION: What’s your opinion on the statement made by Mavroyiannis’ election campaign member Vasilis Protopapas regarding AKEL’s share in relation to the percentage Andreas Mavroyiannis received?

SS: With all due respect to my friend Vasilis, I strongly disagree with what he has said. A large part of the votes that Andreas Mavroyiannis received in the first round came from AKEL and the left. This is what the various analyses reveal. Of course, many other citizens who do not belong to AKEL and who do not even identify themselves on the left also rallied around Andreas Mavroyiannis. But that was the goal! You know, throughout its history, AKEL has sought unity, consensus and a wider resonance in society.

That is precisely why we have seen many, many times that AKEL has supported candidates who do not belong to the spectrum of the left. AKEL contributed greatly and offered a lot of percentages from the Left in the 48% that Mr. Mavroyiannis gained. Not all of the percentage gained belongs to the left, but a large part of it comes from the spectrum of the left.

QUESTION: In what way will you maintain contact with this electoral audience that came close to you in the presidential election?  You have already announced changes…

The aim is to bring AKEL back at least to where it has pledged itself through its action and contribution to represent 1/3 of the Cypriot people and beyond. AKEL must not and is not satisfied with 22%. Throughout its historical path of struggle it has convinced people that it is a great party of the Left that knows and acts as a factor of progress for the country. The stronger AKEL is, the more effective can it fulfill the role of the leading force for progress in the country.

QUESTION: How will this be achieved?

SS: It can do so by opening up even more to society. AKEL has proven many times that it is the main force for progress in the country. That is why we want to get back to attaining our well known high electoral percentages so that we can serve the well-intentioned interests of the many in a better and more effective way. It is in this context that we must improve ourselves.

We must change our structures, procedures, attitudes, our way of working and our image for the better. This is what must and will be improved. We have a structure that was developed decades ago. We are not going to dismantle what we have built, but we are going to reflect on what things in this structure work, what things need improvement and what things do not meet today’s situation. Our goal is to strengthen and broaden our relationship with society. It is not a slogan with an empty content. Let us not forget that in recent years in modern societies more and more people have been thinking, acting and mobilising outside political parties.

QUESTION: How will you make use of these movements?

SS: Movement-style action is growing and social movements are multiplying. With respect and without any paternalism we will continue to develop a two-way relationship of joint action and dialogue with such movements that are of a broader or more specific scope and whose political agendas objectively coincide or converge with ours.

QUESTION: Should we assume that it will be a SYRIZA model?

SS: No, SYRIZA acts according to the logic of permitting the existence of different factions/trends within their party. We will not pursue that logic. We have different experiences in how we operate/act that have helped AKEL to become a mass party and sustain strong relations with society. We will not abandon this experience. Besides, our experience has been useful to some parties in Europe.

QUESTION: For example?

SS: The Workers’ Party (PTB/PVDA) of Belgium from a small extra-parliamentary party, transformed itself into a mass party of the left with strong relations with the popular strata when it adopted a model of action similar to that of AKEL,

QUESTION: You are one of the people on the left who believed in cooperation with the intermediate spectrum. After the last failure to forge a cooperation, can we assume that the cycle of cooperation, particularly with the Democratic Party DIKO, has come to an end?

SS: There was a sincere effort on our part to exhaust every possibility to forge cooperation aiming at achieving progressive change. The way things turned out damaged relations and added more problems to the efforts aiming at cooperation, especially with regards the presidential elections. This does not mean that AKEL will abandon the policy of seeking cooperation with political forces and organised groups. Cooperation, of course, based on principles and a real convergence of positions and proposals.

QUESTION: What’s your opinion on the positions about AKEL expressed by the President of Democratic Party President Nicolas Papadopoulos? Some on the Left feel that their reservations have been confirmed…

SS: The behaviour displayed is very regrettable and certainly does not go unnoticed. I believe that the attack launched by Mr. Papadopoulos and others is the epitome of a Machiavellian logic that the end justifies the means. I am not personalising it, I am talking about attitudes. You cannot consider AKEL good one day when they want your votes and the day after we are considered a demon because you are not [in alliance] with them. That’s kind of what Mr. Papadopoulos’ positions resembled.

QUESTION: Is Nicolas Papadopoulos as a potential candidate a closed matter for AKEL?

SS: But we do not have such an issue before us. We have just finished the presidential elections. Each issue in its own time.

QUESTION: In a previous interview you had been asked about who said that Irini Charalambidou (MP elected from the New Forces aligned to AKEL, not a Party member) wasabsent from the election campaign. I have a feeling that you were not being truthful, given that her absence was glaring and has been discussed intensely. What is really going on between you two?

SS: I want to be honest and say that we were focused on the big picture of the election, leaving the secondary issues behind and I think that helped us conduct a successful campaign. Of course there was an issue.  Even if we wanted to, we could not hide it. People during the election campaign, and especially recently, kept asking us where Irini was. I have to say we are doubly sad, I wish that didn’t happen. We are facing this issue at a time that does not lend itself to introspection. We do not want and do not seek to be inward-looking which would be criminal if we were to engage in that at a time when we are seeking AKEL’s substantial reaching out to all citizens from almost the entire spectrum who have honored Mavroyiannis by voting for him.

We fully respect everyone’s views and our democratic procedures, which we will not restrict. But when decisions are taken, everyone must respect them and work to implement them. This is, after all, the meaning of participation not only in AKEL, but in any other organised group too. Otherwise we would inevitably become a moribund debating club. And AKEL is not a debating club.

QUESTION: Between the first and second rounds, a lot was being heard about cooperation between DISY and AKEL. Is this true?

SS: There was no cooperation whatsoever….

QUESTION: But there was also talk of registers being exchanged.

SS: No, there was no such thing. Far from it. What I know – and I think all citizens know this – is that Ministers, the outgoing President himself, were calling people to rally support for the candidacy of Nikos Christodoulides.

QUESTION: In DISY, we are witnessing a complete renewal of its leadership, and as a result, the discussion about the possibility of renewing AKEL is opening up so that it can address the new situation…

SS: DISY has entered this process because it is the loser of the elections and that is why it has become introverted. AKEL came out of the elections with its forces rallied, emerging strong and confident with the choice it had made, vindicated by the results of the effort that was made.

It is possible that AKEL might also have gone into a similar process if it did not make it into to the second round. I was ready, if we did not make it to the second round, to call for a renewal of confidence. When you fight a battle and do not come out stronger, you should at least ask those you are accountable to whether they have confidence in you to continue or not. Personally, I was ready for something like that.

As far as renewal is concerned, AKEL made a big renewal in its leadership bodies at the last Congress. The same happened in the Party District Committees. Persons are important, but it is not enough just to renew faces or in terms of the age of cadres. What determines one’s course is ideas, positions/policies and behaviours.  What we are trying to prove is that AKEL knows how to keep up with contemporary times without denying itself and its history.

QUESTION: You have made it clear that you will be in opposition. Why were you so bothered by the possibility of the new government tapping into people from the broader Left?

SS: We said it was a cause for war [for the government] to tap party members or cadres, past and present.

QUESTION: Isn’t the point to govern properly?

SS: Look, you can’t be clashing with each other before an election and the day after to be together in one government as if there are no serious disagreements and different agendas.

We don’t want to feed the narrative that disagreements are only superficial and about the election and that after the election “we’re all in it together”. The differences between us are substantive. We fought a battle with a different political program, we failed to win and the people put us in opposition. When you are in opposition you are judged on your stance as well. We will be assertive but also responsible, as we have already said.

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