“I’ll be Nikos to all of you, not the president,” new Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades said an hour or so after claiming victory on Sunday. His words were reminiscent of two former Greek prime ministers, Andreas Papandreou, who wanted his supporters to call him “Andreas” in affection, and his son, George Papandreou, who wanted to be known in Greece simply as “Giorgos.”
Indeed, a populist tone is not the only thing Anastasiades has in common with George Papandreou, who led Greece to the bailout mechanism to avoid a disorderly default in 2010.
In the second round of Cyprus’s presidential election, the 66-year-old lawyer from Limassol earned the highest share of votes since Archbishop Makarios, the island’s first president. Anastasiades, however, was not chosen because he is viewed as speaking for the majority of Cypriots, but rather as the lesser of two evils; his victory is attributed to the deep unpopularity of the outgoing government of the leftist AKEL party.
The international community, including the European Commission and some of the top eurozone finance ministers, greeted conservative Anastasiades’s election to the helm of the Republic of Cyprus with a mixture of satisfaction and relief. In him they see an ally who intends to impose himself on the island in the same way he has led his party over the last decade and a half, with a determination that borders on arrogance.
After all, he has shown the least resistance to eurozone and International Monetary Fund plans for extensive privatizations and the monitoring of possible money laundering in Cyprus by a private firm; if anything, he is by far the most pro-bailout leader on the island – he is the George Papandreou of Cyprus.
His self-styled “political realism” is not only evident in this respect. More importantly, it was blatantly obvious in 2003-04 in the referendums that were crucial for the survival of the republic on the United Nations-backed reunification plan, universally known as the “Annan Plan” even though its real creator was Britain’s special representative for Cyprus, Lord David Hannay.
Anastasiades toed the line drawn by the man who brokered the plan on behalf of the Greek Cypriots, Glafcos Clerides – whom Anastasiades calls his “political father” – which was strongly supported by the Greek government and particularly its foreign minister in 2003-04, a certain George Papandreou, who called on voters to approve the plan, which 75.8 percent of Greek Cypriots eventually rejected.
True, Papandreou and Anastasiades have very different styles and ideologies. The former is a 21st-century Socialist, a rather free spirit who is fond of technology and fitness, while the latter is a neoliberal politician who loves tradition and is a proven family man. And that is to say nothing of Anastasiades’s command of the Greek language, which is far superior to Papandreou’s, despite being Cypriot.
Yet they have too many common points in terms of their political practices. Just like Papandreou, Anastasiades was seen as the “golden chance” of his party, Democratic Rally (DISY), who was waiting in the wings for the right time to stand for president. Anastasiades had actually waited for 16 years since becoming DISY chief in 1997 to stand for and rise to the country’s top job.
Just like Papandreou, who remained at his party’s helm despite electoral defeats in 2004 and 2007 and the challenge of Evangelos Venizelos later in 2007 for the leadership of PASOK, Anastasiades survived his party’s split after his failed decisions at the 2004 referendum – which led to the creation of the smaller European Party – and 10 years in the opposition. He went on to marshal DISY into an army of faithful officials, politicians and fans, win repeated parliamentary elections and rise to president on Sunday.
Notably, Anastasiades’s experience in politics stretches back to his student years in Athens in the 1960s. He started off as one of the founding members of the youth organization of centrist Enosis Kentrou, the sworn opponents of right-wing ERE. And who was the leader of Enosis Kentrou? Georgios Papandreou, the grandfather of George.
It remains to be seen whether Anastasiades will manage not to cave to pressure for a rushed solution to the Cyprus problem, similar to the Annan Plan, that may come as part and parcel of one of the future bailout agreements. And that could be one more Cyprus-made Greek tragedy.
[Kathimerini English Edition]