Interview with the General Secretary of AKEL S.Stefanou
Sunday 9 January 2022, “Fileleftheros” newspaper
QUESTION: Where is the issue of the presidential elections at in AKEL at the moment and what timeframes have you set?
SS: As you know in AKEL we follow a procedure (on elections) which involves the party membership as a whole, the New Forces and friends of the party too. No single person or a few people decide and everybody follows the decision taken. We have started a discussion, a reflection in the leadership bodies of AKEL. We will then go to the Central Committee and local Party organisations. We will subsequently assess the discussion that will take place in the party grassroots at the level of the Central Committee. Final decisions will be taken at a Pancyprian Conference, as provided for in the Party Statutes. Our aim is to take the final decisions by spring.
You understand, of course, that the timeframes don’t solely dependent on us. They are influenced by developments in general, the course of our contacts and discussions with other political and social forces and personalities, as well as by the actions and decisions of our political opponents. The political and electoral situation is fluid and for that reason we must follow developments closely and act accordingly. We are not off our schedule, nor are we behind in our planning.
QUESTION: What is the profile of the candidate you are looking for and what are AKEL’s “red lines” for a programme of cooperation with other opposition parties?
SS: Your question refers to the two key component parts of an electoral battle for the presidency of the state. Namely, programmatic positions and the person who will be the candidate. These two components are interrelated. The progressive change we are seeking has a content and specifications. It includes positions on the core issues that determine the course of the country, society and the economy. AKEL seeks convergences on these issues that will permit the forging of alliances. We have always sought to develop cooperation during presidential elections, and we shall continue to seek them now, exhausting every possibility and room available to us.
Our unwavering goal is get rid ourselves of the DISY government. This is because all through the nine years of its administration it has driven Cyprus to the bottom with many deadlocks plaguing both the country and society. The situation can’t go on like this any longer and that is precisely why DISY must go. Of course, the person who will lead the electoral effort and plays a decisive role in the evolution and outcome of this struggle always enters into the equation of the elections.
The profile of the candidate must bring together several characteristics. The main ones are that he/she must adhere to positions/policies on core issues that converge with ours; that he/she must be honest and credible and have prospects of getting elected.
QUESTION: At what stage have the processes with other parties reached and how difficult or easy is forging cooperation with some parties? Is it merely enough to agree to a common position on the need for change?
SS: The processes haven’t yet proceeded. For them to move forward, the parties must first and above all be ready and know how far they can move. At least that is the case for AKEL. How difficult or easy it will prove to be to achieve cooperation (with other opposition parties) will be confirmed in practice. That is to say, when contacts and discussions will commence. However, the fact that other political forces share AKEL’s position that the country has hit rock bottom because of the policies pursued and implemented by the DISY government, objectively means there is a solid basis to support a joint effort to achieve change in the country.
It is not enough just to take a position expressing the need for change, but the realisation of this need is a motivation for everyone to take steps forward that will lead to forging cooperations.
QUESTION: Is your own name or is it not finally on the table with regards the presidential election and what are AKEL’s preconditions with regards the issue of the names of a presidential candidate?
SS: I have stated it before, I will state it now: we do not rule out the possibility of having a candidate from the spectrum of AKEL, including that of the General Secretary of AKEL. The time when AKEL only supported other candidates is over. In such a case, however, we will again put down all the facts to see how best to serve the fulfillment of our electoral objective, which is victory in the elections and the achievement of change. I will not mention any names, I will only focus on the criteria mentioned earlier regarding cooperations and persons.
QUESTION: Is the issue of electability the first on the agenda of the criteria for the candidate AKEL will endorse and for a possible cooperation?
SS: Of course electability is an important criterion, but not the only one. If electability were the only criterion, we would not be setting various criteria that a person must meet in order to be endorsed as a candidate in the elections, nor would we be talking about the need for convergences on key governance issues. We would find a person who simply gets elected and put criteria down. It’s always the candidate’s positions/policies on the fundamental issues that define the country’s course that determine our own decisions.
QUESTION: Would you exclude the name of a leader of a Party within the context of a cooperation between opposition parties – for example, Nicolas Papadopoulos the President of DIKO?
SS: We said that we shall begin (our discussions) without excluding anyone beforehand. But at the same time we have made it clear that we are not going to indulge in a public debate on names before we enter into a discussion with other political forces on the presidential elections. And since numerous names are being mentioned here and there in the mass media, I want to reiterate that we have not discussed any names with any political force. We haven’t even had such a discussion within the party. When in good time and provided that we have the meetings, we will outline our positions and views to our potential partners and then we will discuss whatever names.
QUESTION: On the part of the Democratic Party DIKO, the nomination of its President Nicolas Papadopoulos is the most likely scenario, unless they state if there is another name with greater electability on the table. What is your reply?
SS: I don’t know who is saying these things, but so much is being said that no one knows what the real concerns and positions of the parties are regarding the presidential elections. Unless face-to-face meetings are held to clarify positions, I am not going to comment or express a public position. Public debate on theoretical scenarios is confusing and distracts everyone from focusing on the main objective of achieving change. I will therefore stick to my approach of not commenting.
QUESTION: Various names have been heard and reported in the media as a possible AKEL candidate. How close or far from reality are these scenarios based always on AKEL’s procedures?
SS: You are correct in saying that various names are being heard and reported in the media. You journalists are doing your job! I don’t remember a presidential election without scenarios and gossip on the names of possible candidates. We are observing the same thing today.
What is being said about possible AKEL candidates does not correspond to reality. And how can that be when we have not yet even discussed names. Let me add that provided we start discussing names in AKEL, nothing will be final until the party procedures provided for in our Statutes are completed and final decisions are taken collectively.
QUESTION: Could, for example, a former Minister of the current government be an AKEL candidate? And the question specifically concerns Giorgos Pamporides whose name is being mentioned by certain circles?
SS: I understand the attempt to get news, but I will not violate what I first observe and demand from everyone else. I wonder if I were to start violating what I demand of AKEL members and friends, namely that party procedures should be respected, what message I would be sending and what legitimacy would I subsequently have to continue to demand it.
QUESTION: Would a possible independent candidacy of former Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides worry AKEL and why?
SS: How can a possible candidacy of Nikos Christodoulides be independent, when in an interview with your newspaper just a few days ago, at Christmas, he claims that “I have been a member of DISY since my youth to this today.” How can he convince that he is an independent candidacy when he says that “I listen to society, to my Party, and of course to the Party’s members”. Suddenly N. Christodoulides will become independent? N. Christodoulides turning into an independent candidate is practically like DISY President Averof Neophytou’s declaration that he will save the country at a time when for nine years he has supported the government on everything.
QUESTION: Is it true that there was a sort of pressure exerted by the people of AKEL on the party leadership to move quickly in response to Averof Neophytou’s announcing his candidacy?
SS: The pressure isn’t on AKEL, but on DISY because of the tug-of-war between Averof Neophytou and former Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides. Just because Neophytou was in a hurry to catch up with Christodoulides and put pressure on him, it does not mean that we have delayed. We are proceeding according to the timeframe that we have drawn up. We are proceeding on the basis of our initial plan to discuss the political framework, to address the political forces of the opposition in order to discuss the possibility of forging cooperation and to discuss the person who will lead this effort.