Excerpts from an interview with Stefanos Stefanou, General Secretary of AKEL:
Sunday, 26 March 2023, ‘SIMERINI’ newspaper
QUESTION: In your assessment of the presidential elections, you point out that elements such as the strong appeal Andreas Mavroyiannis recorded among young voters create prospects for the future. To capitalise and broaden these prospects that you identify in your reading of the election results, is it a prerequisite for AKEL to open up further and cooperate on a continuous basis with people beyond the spectrum of the left, and even from the right? Are you prepared to do that? If so, do you consider this as representing an ideological shift for your party?
SS: AKEL, as a party of the left, has always managed to maintain contact and mobilise people from outside and beyond the spectrum of the left. This is because AKEL’s political agenda has always included demands and issues that interest, move and inspire broader sections of Cypriot society. It is precisely in order to cover this part of society that is beyond the spectrum of the Left but shares AKEL’s political agenda that AKEL established the formation of the New Forces [Note: democratic and progressive figures and personalities aligned to AKEL].
By doing so, AKEL maintains its ideological character and at the same time develops a continuous and reciprocal relationship and cooperation with people and personalities beyond the spectrum of the Left. Bearing this historical experience in mind, AKEL will continue to be outward-looking, be open to society, with its political agenda, actions and through the changes it makes AKEL will continue to express the spectrum of the Left as a whole.
AKEL will continue to develop relations with that progressive pole of society that shares the same agenda as us. This is what AKEL has always done, with its specific ideological character, which is precisely why it is not afraid of opening up further.
QUESTION: There is a perception in the periphery that the election results were ideal for AKEL. On the one hand because AKEL rallied to a huge extent its voters and supporters and on the other hand because it did not get elected to manage the hot potato of governance in its hands. Is this true? Why do you think that a large section of society believes that AKEL does not really want to assume government responsibilities yet?
SS: None of what you stated in your question is true. And I must tell you that these questions were answered to a great extent in the election campaign. The election result proved that the choice we made [to support the candidacy of Andreas Mavroyiannis] had the preconditions to win.
In the battle of the presidential elections, AKEL worked with all its strength for what was principally at stake, namely to achieve progressive change. The people of AKEL rallied around the independent candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis and worked extremely hard, with conviction and enthusiasm. AKEL contributed decisively and resolutely to the significant percentage that Andreas Mavroyiannis managed to obtain in the second round and this alone answers the question of whether or not AKEL wanted these elections to be won.
QUESTION: In the last decade, as far as the electoral behaviour of AKEL voters is concerned, the following phenomenon has been observed: In the presidential elections, AKEL rallies to a significant extent its voters and supporters. However in the parliamentary elections the party has sustained very serious losses reaching 40% (from 132,171 votes in the 2011 parliamentary elections you reached 79,913 in the 2021 parliamentary elections), How do you interpret this phenomenon?
SS: Without being an excuse for this electoral retreat that we did have, we must say that AKEL is operating in a social reality that puts pressure on parties. A significant section of society is suspicious and doubtful of political parties and this, as is logical, has a negative impact on AKEL as well. It is therefore a challenge for the political forces to restore society’s trust. AKEL is trying to do this by operating and acting with honesty, rationalism and moderation, but also with assertiveness. But restoring society’s trust in parties does not depend on us alone.
Our challenge is to restore AKEL to where it has historically placed itself. That is precisely why we are regrouping and asserting with our struggle and political proposals, through dialogue and contacts with society to convince [the people] that there is a strong political force that wants and indeed is able to meet its expectations, to defend society, to fight for Cyprus, to play a leading role for the Cyprus we want, for the future we envision.
QUESTION: About three weeks of the Nicos Christodoulides administration have passed [since his election]. In this short time, the appointment of the Cabinet, the new President’s efforts to further engage the EU on the Cyprus problem and the visit to Athens have been recorded. What is your reading of these first weeks of Christodoulides’ administration, more specifically with regard to these issues?
SS: With regards the appointment of the Council of Ministers, AKEL’s comment was that Nikos Christodoulides has gone below the bar that he himself set based on the pledges he had undertaken during the election.
He himself had characterised the appointment of his Council of Ministers as a top political act during the election campaign, which is why he set specific criteria which he did not meet in the end.
As far as the further involvement of the European Union on the Cyprus problem is concerned, first of all, we do not know whether Mr. Christodoulides has a specific proposal and, if he does, what its content is. We will ask to be briefed during the forthcoming session of the National Council.
We will also ask what the President’s objective is when he says that he wants to further involve the European Union on the Cyprus problem. We would like to know exactly how this involvement will help, particularly when the EU itself says that it wants to help when the United Nations will decide to take an initiative [on the Cyprus problem], and this is also stated in relevant decisions approved by the European Council.
We also want to know what Nikos Christodoulides’ plan is for the continuation of the negotiations. Will the negotiations proceed as the UN Secretary General has repeatedly called for, namely from the point where they were interrupted at Crans-Montana on the basis of the Guterres Framework and preserving the body of work that has been agreed so far [negotiating acquis]?
We also want to know how he intends to proceed so that there are incentives for Turkey to bring it back to the negotiating table. In our view, Euro-Turkey relations do not provide enough of a basis, so we have to go back to the energy issue. This is all what we want to discuss at the National Council, which is precisely why we have also called for this Council to be convened.
QUESTION: The visit of the President of the Republic of Cyprus to Athens brought up, among other things, the issue of the establishment of a Supreme Cooperation Council (SCC). You immediately questioned the fact that the Councils of Ministers of Cyprus and Greece will cooperate within the framework of the SCC because, if we understand correctly, you consider that this sends a message that the independent and bicommunal status of the Republic of Cyprus is undermined. If a similar agreement were to be concluded with a third country, such as Egypt or France, would you react the same or is the problem that this agreement was concluded with Greece?
SS: What the President announced was the convening of “joint meetings of the Council of Ministers of Cyprus and Greece at regular intervals”. I don’t know if you know anything more than that, but we don’t know of any other countries that have their Councils of Ministers meeting together at regular intervals. There is no such practice. That is why we assume that the day after the Government Spokesman stated that these are not joint meetings of Cabinets but “meetings between competent Ministers and deputy Ministers”.
In any case, the establishment of intergovernmental cooperation between Cyprus and Greece is welcome. We agree and want close coordination with Greece. AKEL commented on the President’s announcement, pointing out the obvious: Cyprus is an independent and bicommunal state in which a peculiar situation prevails with Turkey questioning the existence of the Republic of Cyprus since 1964 and seeking to convince the international community that there is in fact no Republic of Cyprus.
Therefore, we must protect the existence of the Republic of Cyprus and refrain from any actions or decisions that send the wrong messages or that could be misinterpreted by Turkey in order to serve its propaganda.