● Seven months have proved to be enough for AKEL to be vindicated about N. Christodoulides
● There is a way to break the deadlock on the Cyprus problem – The only way for the two sides to meet is to continue from where they had remained in 2017 at Crans Montana
Sunday 8 October 2023, “Haravgi” newspaper
QUESTION: After the UN General Assembly, things look like we are on the same denominator. The President of the Republic is setting one “milestone” after another, but these “milestones” are passing by without yielding any result. Is this really the way things are?
STEFANOS STEFANOU: It is a fact that on the Cyprus problem, and despite the expectations that the President is raising by talking about “milestones”, unfortunately nothing significant has come out of them that would change the situation. The longest stalemate that has ever been recorded on the Cyprus problem continues to exist, which Turkey is using as a tool to impose new partitionist fait accompli on the ground. This situation threatens Cyprus with its permanent partition.
QUESTION: Given the negative attitude of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership, is there any prospect of breaking the deadlock?
SS: Even if there isn’t, we must try to create it by taking specific and targeted initiatives in four main directions:
First, to insist, without any vagueness or mincing our words, on the continuation of the negotiations from the point where they had remained in 2017 on the basis of the Guterres Framework, preserving all the convergences that have been achieved.
Second, to reiterate the Greek Cypriot side’s unwavering commitment to the agreed basis for a solution of a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as outlined in the relevant resolutions of the UN.
Thirdly, to actively promote a positive agenda on the part of the Republic of Cyprus towards Turkey with the aim of create incentives and a momentum for the resumption of the negotiations. The Euro-Turkish issues, which the President invokes, are not a sufficient basis for achieving this objective. Energy issues in the region and the Cypriot natural gas need to be included, without, of course, violating our “red lines”. Since December 2020, AKEL has submitted a relevant proposal to the President of the Republic.
Fourthly, we as the Republic of Cyprus must finally announce measures providing support for the Turkish Cypriot community, with the aim of building trust between the two communities. AKEL has submitted a comprehensive proposal to the President of the Republic on this issue too.
QUESTION: The Turkish and Turkish Cypriot side insist on a two state solution with sovereign equality. How can the two sides meet since they now have opposite starting points?
SS: The only way for the two sides to meet is to pick up from where the negotiations broke off in 2017. This is the only way out of the impasse, which has been suggested and supported many times by both the Secretary-General of the UN and the UN Security Council.
QUESTION: In these conditions, is there any possibility of appointing a UN Secretary General special envoy and, more importantly, of resuming the dialogue?
SS: The appointment of an envoy requires the consent of both sides and it seems that this consent is not forthcoming from the Turkish Cypriot side. The appointment of an envoy would be a positive development, given that his/her role is to facilitate and promote the resumption of negotiations. However, the appointment of an envoy does not in itself mean that it will automatically lead to the resumption of negotiations.
“We are not surprised by the government’s behaviour”
QUESTION: With what we have witnessed in the 7+ months of this government and noting a series of failures, mismanagement, cronyism appointments etc., how do you assess the Christodoulides administration so far?
SS: It is both erroneous in terms of the performance and image of the government. This is reflected in the opinion polls, but also in the disappointment expressed by many who had voted for Nikos Christodoulides. However, we are not surprised. We expected this. Seven months have proved to be enough for AKEL to be vindicated in what it said during the election campaign about a possible election of Christodoulides: First, that his election would not satisfy the need for a substantive change of course in the governance of the country. Second, that the Christodoulides presidency would in essence be a continuation of the Anastasiades-DISY government, of which the current President was a key member. This is the situation we now have before us.
QUESTION: AKEL, as the principal opposition party has taken a number of initiatives (e.g. housing, electricity/fuel subsidies, interest rate subsidies) to provide support towards the common people, whose economic and social condition is going from bad to worse. Do you think these initiatives have had an impact and what else do you think AKEL can do?
SS: Yes, our initiatives have had an effect and that is precisely why we will continue them. First of all, it is the pressure exerted on the government to push through measures and policies. Our campaign on housing put the issue on the political agenda and that forced the government to deal with it. In addition, because we had put forward specific and feasible proposals, the government was forced to discuss them in order to include them in the framework of the state policy that needs to be formulated on housing.
Our own pressure is keeping open the prospect of fuel and interest rate measures that the government is trying to bypass/ignore. We will keep up the pressure until the government decides to do what it should have done long ago.
QUESTION: Indeed, the political pressure the government is being put under on the issue of inflation seems to be producing some results. Wouldn’t mobilising the public be a powerful lever of pressure?
SS: That is also in our plans, but not only that. We need the mobilisations and initiatives to be accompanied by proposals on how the government can, within the limits of the economy, support households and small and medium-sized enterprises. Such proposals have been put forward both by us and by the trade union movement. Ways do exist, it is the political will on the part of the government that is lacking.
“The migration issue is a complex and challenging”
QUESTION: Immigration is a central issue in domestic politics. How much of this is due to real problems and how much do you think it is being exploited by certain forces and circles to divert people’s attention elsewhere?
SS: Migration is a complex issue with many challenges, which needs a comprehensive policy in order to be addressed based on a humanistic approach and solidarity, within the framework of international law and international conventions.
The previous government of Anastasiades – DISY did not formulate a comprehensive policy, although it received enough EU funds to build infrastructures and implement policies, hence generating many problems. It settled for incomplete and piecemeal measures, while hiding its lack of policy by engaging in a rhetoric normally used by the far-right. The immigration issue was instrumentalised by the far-right, the previous government and the then ruling DISY party for political and electoral gain.
QUESTION: Racist rhetoric is no longer the “privilege” of ELAM alone. Certain political forces reacted only when things came to a head and I am referring to the attacks launched in Chloraka and Limassol. How does this affect the internal political situation?
SS: That is indeed the situation. Of course, the first instances of such rhetoric appeared before far-right ELAM party even entered parliament. Some MPs, well-known to all, had employed “arguments” about high and illegal immigrant benefits by displaying copies of relevant cheques with large sums of money, without specifying that these were cumulative benefits of a few months. These MP’s have not changed their rhetoric, it is just that ELAM has outdone them in terms of lies, intensity and frequency of statements.
It is true that this rhetoric has created a xenophobic climate among a significant section of society, a climate that blames foreigners for all the socio-economic problems of the country. This rhetoric, in addition to feelings of hatred and fear of foreigners, has created and feeds an ambient atmosphere that shifts attention away from the root causes of problems. It is by creating such an atmosphere and the tolerance shown towards the far-right by various forces and right-wing establishment that we were led to the far-right pogroms unleashed in Chloraka and Limassol.
QUESTION: AKEL stood up against the far right and the pogroms. How do you react to this situation?
SS: Indeed, from the very beginning, AKEL has stood up to the far right and ELAM. It has resisted and many times denounced their policies, as well as the tolerance shown by parties and establishment forces are leading to the “normalisation” of the far right. I recall, among other things, AKEL’s denunciations from the floor of Parliament about military exercises being conducted by ELAM, as well as our opposition to the far-right party being given the chairmanship of a parliamentary committee. I also recall AKEL’s constant accusations about the absence of a comprehensive policy for the management of migratory flows on the part of the previous government.
AKEL’s reaction is developed along two main axes: first, the formation of a broad anti-racist front which coordinates and organises the action of anti-racist organisations, movements and people against the far-right, its policies and rhetoric. Secondly, to inform society about the real dimensions of the immigration issue. Already, as a party, we have prepared relevant material which we have started to distribute.
“We are pleased, but not complacent, about the results of recent polls”
QUESTION: Recent opinion polls show AKEL is recovering [its strength]. In fact, a recent poll gives you the lead. How do you assess the upheavals in the political scene?
SS: It is a fact that in our contacts with workers and the people we perceive a better atmosphere for the Party and a greater recognition and appreciation for our interventions in society. This is also reflected in the opinion polls showing us as the first party, which of course makes us happy, but does not make us complacent. These are difficult times for Cyprus, our people, workers and society. Hard work on the part of the Party for the benefit of the common people is more than necessary and imperative. The fluidity that does characterise the political scene is primarily an expression of the questioning of the political system, institutions and parties themselves by a significant section of society.
“Towards the end of the procedures for Local Government”
QUESTION: Where are the Party’s procedures on the local government elections at?
SS: They are very advanced. We are towards the end of the procedures at the Party grassroots level for nominating candidates to staff the Party’s ballot papers. The ballots for the local elections will be decided at the Party general assemblies of the respective Municipalities.
Our aim is to have ballot papers that express the character of the Party and that include candidates not only from AKEL but also from the wider progressive spectrum. At the same time, mainly at the local and district level, there are ongoing discussions and contacts with society at a local level, with figures and political forces, with the aim of forging cooperation.
QUESTION: We understand that the procedures for the European election ballot paper are also progressing?
SS: Yes, the procedures are being carried out at Party level for the local elections and the European elections together. But for the European election ballot the final decisions will be taken at the level of the Central Committee.
QUESTION: Will you again include a Turkish Cypriot candidate on the ballot for the European elections?
SS: The inclusion and election to the European Parliament of a Turkish Cypriot, Professor Niyazi Kizilyurek, was a historic step for AKEL, but also for the political affairs of the Republic of Cyprus. It is our aim to continue this historic step, which only AKEL can take because of the very good relations it has maintained with the Turkish Cypriot community over the years and the trust shown in it by many Turkish Cypriots.
“The aim of the AKEL Statutory Congress is for the Party to act more effectively”
QUESTION: On 26 November the AKEL Statutory Congress will convene. Where changes do you want to bring about? Can you give us two or three examples?
SS: The main objectives are threefold: to harmonise the Statutes and the Rules of the Party’s operation with the modern conditions in the political and institutional superstructure. To simplify structures and procedures in order to be faster and more efficient in our operation and actions. To further deepen democracy in the Party by strengthening the participation of the party grass roots.
Since discussions on statutory and rules changes are still ongoing, let me say nothing about the changes that are being initiated. We will soon be able to say more.
QUESTION: Will there be any changes on the issue of the New Forces? Will their relationship with the Party become more meaningful?
SS: Yes, there will be changes. For a very long time we have seen that the institution of the New Forces, a historic custom that has contributed a lot to the Party and its cooperation with personalities from the broader left spectrum and beyond, needs to be improved. We are discussing specific changes that will improve politically and organisationally the presence of the broader forces alongside the Party on the one hand, as well as the level of participation, the relationship of broader forces with the Party. The aim is to give a practical form to what has been codified as the Social Alliance.
● Seven months have proved to be enough for AKEL to be vindicated about N. Christodoulides