All three played ball over the ruins of the Cyprus problem. They acknowledged the need to take initiatives, but gave no prospects.
Certainly, the debate on the Cyprus problem was not dull, although there were points where it became tedious. [Translator’s note: reference to first televised debate between the three main candidates in the upcoming elections] There was intrigue, personal characterisations, blows below the belt. If anyone had expected the three candidates to use the opportunity to explain what went wrong and, more importantly, what can go right in the future – beyond the spectacle, that is, to add substance – then they would have been disappointed. It did, however, confirm how paradoxical this election period is. In the sense that we saw a “blame game” and an attempt by three people with a significant role in the handling of the Cyprus problem to convince us who is best suited to restore the country’s credibility, with the Cyprus problem “closed” and the annexation of the occupied areas imminent.
Nikos Christodoulides is now officially the candidate of the “Centre”. He may not have unfurled a plan on how he means to proceed but he did give a clear indication as to what he stands for. Showing that his popularity with a large section of society, including a chunk of DISY, is not only a matter of image but also positions. He put forward the need to build on the “momentum” from the war in Ukraine and the sanctions, ignoring the strategic role that Turkey currently plays. He embraced the illusions of the new strategy, arguing that within the EU we have a comparative advantage. [Translator’s note: reference to a Cyprus problem-related strategy presented by DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos in 2017 as part of his election manifesto] He spoke as “EDEK”, stressing that we should redefine the essence of the Cyprus problem as a problem of invasion and occupation (48 years later). In perhaps the most important mistake he made, he also adopted the prevailing attitude, accusing Andreas Mavroyiannis of adopting Turkey’s argumentation. He did not engage in confrontation, despite coming under attack, he maintained a mild tone, but showed he has no realistic plan that will bring us closer to a solution. On the contrary, he proposed a continuation of the same policy that has brought us to the present day, while at the same time admitting that nothing can be done to control Turkey until a solution is found.
Andreas Mavroyiannis confirmed that he will have great difficulty in straddling the line between what he stood for as a negotiator and what he will have to stand for as the new AKEL candidate. Indicative of this was his statement that an opportunity was lost in Crans-Montana as a result of our failure to submit our proposals earlier, while two months ago he was stating that the process collapsed because Cavusoglu was not ready to accept the abolition of guarantees. Taking direct aim at Nikos Christodoulides, he attempted – unsuccessfully – to deflect responsibility. He accused the former Foreign Minister of obstructing the process and of undermining him in the eyes of the President. And crowning his dissent, he highlighted that we left Crans-Montana (when the Turkish side had agreed to discuss territory and security) as a result of Christodoulides.
At times he was arrogant, such as when he described Averof Neophytou’s statements on NATO as lacking historical context. In other instances he moved outside political convention, revealing a private conversation with Nikos Christodoulides in which, he claimed, the latter told him that he could not exhaust “political capital” to betray the country. He played to the left-wing audience, referring to the coup and declaring himself proud of AKEL’s support. But he failed to convince on why, since he disagreed, he did not walk away as negotiator. He also did not convince that he has a clear plan on how we move forward. When asked about his proposal on cooperation over natural gas before a solution, he said he will not insist on it. Nor did he convince on how realistic his proposal is to “safeguard Famagusta” by making it a fenced-off part of the buffer zone.
Averof Neophytou once again concentrated on a party audience, seeming to accept the limits of his candidacy. He recalled that his party was a pioneer in leading the country in to Europe and described the Crans-Montana framework as a “dowry for our side”. Comfortable, confident and with a clear goal as to the messages he wanted to get across, he seemed to win on the points [of discussion]. He intervened where he needed to, left the spats over responsibilities to his interlocutors and had digs at their credibility. As he did with his statement regarding Mavroyiannis’ resignation and his use of the Christodoulides revelations to suggest that “the Cyprus problem is not for building careers”. He came out clearly in favour of a BBF [bizonal, bicommunal federation] with political equality and put forward the need for a positive agenda, describing natural gas as a catalyst, and credibility and the ability to make proper assessments as “key”. But he did not seem to have a clear plan either. Even though he expressed optimism, he did not explain how Famagusta can be salvaged or how talks can resume. Just as he failed to convincingly offload his own responsibilities. To answer why the government threw away the Crans-Montana “dowry”? But also how he can restore credibility, as the continuation of an administration that has damaged the country’s credibility over the last nine years? Once again he looked trapped between his support for Anastasiades and the need to differentiate himself from the way things were handled.
If anything stood out in the debate, it was that all three played ball over the ruins. They acknowledged the need to take initiatives, but failed to provide any prospects. To convince that they have the key to “unlock” the Cyprus problem. They confirmed however – if nothing else – how paradoxical this election period is. And they convinced that they are the ones who can best handle the national issue. Who better to close the Cyprus problem than those who led it to the brink of closure?
Source: CYPRUS PROBLEM WITHOUT PROSPECTS