Interview with the General Secretary of the Central Committee of AKEL Stefanos Stefanou
Sunday 7 May 2923, “HARAYGI” newspaper
● We rely on our historical experience to continue with our sights on the future
● AKEL is the main opposition force and will continue to be assertive, responsible, creative and patriotic
● Turkey is exploiting the longest stalemate ever on the Cyprus problem to impose new occupation fait accompli on the ground and it is doing so without suffering any real cost whatsoever
● As an opposition party, AKEL will continue to be assertive, responsible, creative and patriotic to defend workers and serve the well-meaning interests of society and our country too
HARAVGI: The Nikos Christodoulides government has already completed 70 days in government. How do you assess its work so far?
SS: It is true that the period is short to make a judgement, but we have noted decisions, actions and statements from the government that are indicative of the direction it is heading towards.
The first thing that we have pointed out is that the government on various issues seems unprepared to provide solutions, even though it had declared during the election campaign that it had solutions ready to address all the problems and challenges.
Look at what is happening with the problem of foreclosures. Both during and after the election, the government declared that it was ready with measures and plans to tackle this pressing problem, but in the end it has proven to be unprepared, not to say unwilling, to intervene.
HARAVGI: However, there seems to be a general disillusionment in society in general about what was Christodoulides said during the pre-election campaign and what is subsequently being done after election [by the government] on a number of issues.
SS: That’s the second characteristic I want to highlight. The first political action of this government, namely the appointment of the Ministerial Cabinet, was accompanied by a reversal of the President’s clear pledge to appoint women to 50% of the body. This was followed by appointments to posts in which the procedures advertised by the President were not followed, and I mean through the Advisory Council, which is still being formed.
There was, of course, also the fiasco of the appointment of a member to the Public Service Commission (EDY) who did not meet the required standards, which proved that the President’s proclamations of appointing the most capable and qualified are not being put into practice.
HARAVGI: With the election of the new government, we also have seen changes in the political situation within the House of Representatives itself. The parties DIKO, DYPA and EDEK support the government, while DISY is not taking a clear and consistent stand. Is AKEL the only party with a clear opposition stand?
SS. AKEL is the main opposition force. It is opposed to a government whose President declares that he will continue the policy of the previous Anastasiades-DISY government, which was the worst ever in the history of our country.
As an opposition party, AKEL shall continue to be assertive, responsible, creative and patriotic seeking to defend the working people and serve the well-intentioned interests of society, as well as of our country.
HARAVGI: Does AKEL feel isolated in Parliament? Can there be an effective opposition essentially from only one party together with the Ecologists?
SS: No, we don’t feel isolated at all. On the contrary, it is the government that must be starting to feel politically isolated. From the first days of its administration it has been politically alone on certain issues. Even the parties backing the government do not support government positions.
Our actions and proposals address society and I should note that initiatives we have taken on important problems such as housing, the reconstruction of dangerous refugee settlements and foreclosures are finding broad popular resonance and appeal.
HARAVGI: How do you comment on the fact that a section of citizens consider that AKEL during Anastasiades government did not satisfactorily fulfill its role as an opposition force?
SS: I think there is no need to go back to such a discussion that now concerns the previous government. What we need to do, based on our experiences as an opposition force and under the previous government, is to improve and become more effective in confronting the current government.
It is important that our opposition is creative and well-documented and that our political discourse is understood by society. It is also imperative that we elaborate positive proposals, pointing out and highlighting solutions to the problems faced by working people, by common people.
HARAVGI: Do you intend to change anything in your tactics? That is, to see more actions being organised outside parliament, involving and mobilizing the people to assert demands?
SS: Our tactics are based on combining parliamentary action with political and movement-type actions outside parliament, which we will continue. What needs to be done is to upgrade both aspects of our actions.
In Parliament we need to be even more concrete, more authoritative and timely in our proposals, reactions and reflexes.
Outside Parliament, we should seek to forge the greatest possible coordination of forces and cooperation with organised groups, social forces and movements aiming at raising issues in society, turning them into an agenda and fighting for solutions.
HARAVGI: In terms of the upcoming Statutory Party Congress in in November, have you decided on the content of the proposal? What will the Congress focus on?
SS: We will attach special attention to three areas. We aim to make such constitutional changes, that will improve the functioning and effectiveness of the Party in its actions, deepen democracy and enhance the Party’s ability to embrace and forge organic relationships with personalities and organised groups/movements who share with AKEL key positions from its political agenda.
HARAVGI: As there’s a lot of discussion, will this Congress focus on statutory matters because some people are talking about changes in AKEL’s ideological positions as well?
SS: There is no need for an ideological Congress, nor is anyone asking for one. The ideology of our Party, that is to say Marxism-Leninism, is not only not an obstacle to making changes in the Party, in its actions, in its rhetoric and in its forms of organization, but it renders them imperative. After all, Marxism is not just a worldview, it is also a guide for action with the dialectical method as an invincible tool.
The ideology gains strength the more its bearer/expressor, namely the Party, succeeds in building up its relations with the working people and society on a mass level. When the Party manages to mobilise the masses and play a role to the benefit of the working people, society and the country.
This means that the Party cannot be content with engaging in analyses and interpretations which without any doubt it must do; it cannot exhaust its interventions by indulging in theoretical discussions only, but rather the Party must come forward with proposals and actions to improve the living conditions of the people, to improve the country itself, without of course abandoning its vision of a qualitatively different society, that is to say socialism.
If we look back into the history of AKEL, we will see that this is exactly what our Party has been doing since its foundation and this is precisely why the masses trusted it. That’s exactly why it has grown, become a mass movement and has gained such prestige that everyone counts on it. On the basis of this historical experience, we shall continue with our sights on the future.
● The current government seems to be continuing with the same anti-social policies as the previous one
HARAVGI: On economic issues, can you prioritise three AKEL proposals that will help to provide immediate relief, to some extent, to the poorer economic strata and vulnerable groups of the population?
SS: The first and most important issue in the current context is the reduction of the selling prices of essential goods and principally the price of electricity and fuel. There are solutions and we have submitted proposals to this effect in Parliament, which unfortunately were not addressed positively by the previous government. At first glance, it seems that the current government will continue pursuing the same anti-social policies as the previous one. Additional evidence for this is the position expressed by the government on the Cost of Living allowance issue.
The second is to establish a net of protection for borrowers from the arbitrary actions of the banks and credit purchase companies. It is very important to protect primary homes and small commercial premises. We have put forward specific proposals on these issues too.
The third is for the state to provide small and medium-size businesses, to young couples and the vulnerable groups of the population with access to affordable housing. On this issue too, as I have mentioned earlier, we have tabled proposals.
HARAVGI: Has there been any response from the government to the proposals you have put forward on the need for affordable housing?
SS: To be fair to the government, we have not yet addressed the government to get its reactions. It is in our plans to address it after we have completed the dialogue we are currently developing with the community [through the mass campaign AKEL is continuing on housing policy], as well as through our contacts with all interested parties. We will subsequently judge the government’s attitude.
On the positive side, I note that the Minister of Interior has responded quickly to the issue we raised about unsuitable apartment buildings [in the government refugee settlements] and the need for solutions. Here too, of course, the Government will be judged by the content of the plans that it will eventually formulate, but also by its effectiveness in implementing them.
● AKEL’s proposal turns the energy situation in the region into a field of creating common interests
HARAVGI: As far as the Cyprus problem is concerned we have the longest stagnation ever. Is the Greek Cypriot side ready to take initiatives to resume the talks after the elections in Turkey and Greece?
SS: The Greek Cypriot side has no other option. It must take specific initiatives that create momentum for the resumption of the negotiations from the point where they were interrupted at Crans-Montana [in 2027].
The Cyprus problem is in its worst position ever, with permanent partition threatening us directly. Turkey is exploiting the longest stalemate ever witnessed on the Cyprus problem in order to impose new fait accompli on the ground. And it is doing so without suffering any real political cost, given that the Greek Cypriot side is held by the international community jointly responsible for the deadlock on the Cyprus problem.
Consequently, the primary responsibility of the new President is to restore the credibility of the Greek Cypriot side by taking initiatives that will convince them that it really wants, that it means what it says and that it is working for a resumption of the negotiation procedure from where it had remained at the 2017 Crans-Montana conference on Cyprus and that it wants the achievement of a solution based on the agreed basis of a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as defined by the relevant Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
HARAVGI: President Christodoulides has pinned all his hopes on the EU, with his well-known proposal for a more active involvement of Cyprus’ European partners. Is this initiative by the President enough?
SS: First of all, I want to say that the President has not submitted a proposal to the Europeans. That is what he told us at the session of the National Council (Note: a longstanding advisory body to the given President composed of all the parliamentary parties and former Presidents), saying that he has conveyed some ideas to Cyprus’ EU partners as to how the EU can be more active in helping the efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem.
This is legitimate and I hope that the President will succeed. The point is that the EU has approved Council decisions that specify that the provision of specific political and technical assistance on the Cyprus problem can be done after the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations have begun. And unfortunately we are not at that stage.
Bearing this in mind, we are not in a position to know how the EU will approach the President’s request for the appointment of a high-profile EU envoy on the Cyprus problem. Even if it does go ahead with such an appointment, this does not mean that the objective of resuming negotiations will automatically be achieved. Much more is needed to achieve this crucial objective. A positive agenda capable of creating incentives for Turkey to return to the negotiating table needs to be formulated.
HARAVGI: The President suggests that this positive agenda concerns Euro-Turkish relations.
SS: Yes, the President seems to have moved from the policy of imposing sanctions, which as Foreign Minister he prioritized during the Anastasiades government, to the policy of formulating a positive agenda. That, generally speaking, is a good development.
However, we are very much afraid that if the President is pinning his hopes on Euro-Turkish issues and sticks to them alone, he will not get the result he expects. Turkey does not include the Cyprus problem in the grid of its relations with the EU, but in the issues regarding the Eastern Mediterranean.
Apart from that, the discussion of Euro-Turkish issues has long been frozen and there are no prospects at the moment to change the situation. Most importantly, on issues of interest to Turkey, unanimity is needed among the member states before any decisions can be taken.
It is therefore very likely that in the end we will end up in a situation where instead of discussing with Turkey, we will be discussing with Cyprus’ EU partners.
HARAVGI: I understand that this is precisely why AKEL is proposing the issue of energy for a positive agenda?
SS: Exactly! Turkey is very much interested in energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and wants to be a key player in the region.
With this in mind, as AKEL we have formulated a specific proposal to turn Cypriot natural gas and energy facts in the region into a field of common interests in order to convince Turkey to come back to the negotiating table.
And because our proposal has been derided by the former President, I hasten to clarify for the umpteenth time that this proposal stipulates that Turkey will not get anything until the Cyprus problem is resolved.
Turkey is exploiting the longest stalemate ever on the Cyprus problem to impose new occupation fait accompli on the ground and it is doing so without suffering any real cost whatsoever
Interview with the General Secretary of the Central Committee of AKEL Stefanos Stefanou