In its presidential election, Cyprus traded a communist for a conservative. Nikos Anastasiadis will try to stave off bankruptcy, please his people and cater to the EU. Opposition parties think he's a pawn.
With 57.5 percent of the votes, Nicos Anastasiadis of Cyprus's conservative party defeated the reigning leftist president, Stavros Malás, by a surprisingly wide margin on Sunday (24.02.2012). The new president's biggest challenge will be to provide details of new austerity measures to impatient international donors while simultaneously staving off bankruptcy for his small island republic.
For eight months, Anastasiadis's predecessor, President Christofias, negotiated the terms of a 17.5-billion-euro ($23-billion) aid package with the EU, IMF and ECB "troika." An agreement was supposedly made in principle. Yet questions, particularly regarding the sale of public debt, remain open. In addition, Anastasiadis promised the privatization of state-owned companies during his campaign, the details of which are still vague. In his first statement after the election, however, the conservative party leader attempted to convey a sense of optimism.
"Together, with all political forces and with our people, we're fighting for unity, so that we can overcome this crisis and return to growth," said the newly-elected president of the island republic. "We want a modernization of the state and the implementation of far-reaching reforms, just like it said in our manifesto."
Curiously, Anastasiadis's first appearance after his electoral victory was not before the followers of his own party, but at the headquarters of the social liberal party DHKO. It was an open gesture of gratitude to his future coalition partner - one that has veered strongly to the right in recent months and helped Anastasiadis in his victory.
In a sobering counterpoint, though, the newly-appointed foreign minister, Conservative politician Ioannis Kassoulidis, gave a speech on Cypriot television on the same evening. The pragmatic Kassoulidis tried to instil a sense of urgency so that his country might avert bankruptcy.
"We have to come to an agreement with the EU and fight for the best possible deal," Kassoulidis said. Time is of the essence, he believes, especially since any aid package must be approved not only by European finance ministers, but also by all national parliaments. Such a process implies that Cyprus will remain without EU aid until at least June, which will compel the government to take on a short-term loan.
In order to pave the way for that future aid package, the newly-elected president would like to play upon his relationships with Europe's movers and shakers - above all else, Angela Merkel. In Cyprus, those close political relationships are the source of both praise and criticism.
Just before the run-off election, the general secretary of the Leftist party, Andros Kyprianou, critiqued the Conservative leader for his strong connections to Berlin.
"Mr. Anastasiadis is Mrs. Merkel's chosen one," the communist politician said. Kyprianou believes that the president is also the "chosen one" of Deutsche Bank, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. These forces, through the election victory of Anastasiadis, now have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pursue their own policies on Cyprus, the communist politician believes. They are the same policies, he feels, that drove the entire world into the current financial crisis.
Even the Greek Turkish divide in Cyprus, has now taken second stage to financial issues. Yet the urgency and emotion of the issue will at some point test the newly-elected president.
Anastasiadis was one of the loudest proponents of the "Annan plan"'s peace efforts. At the same time, the former president and current chairman of the leftist DHKO party, Tassos Papadopoulos, rejected that plan vehemently.
To win back the favor of his former enemy, Anastasiadis will have to convince social liberals that he will distance himself from the "Annan Plan" and any similar peace plans proposed by the UN. In a late-Sunday press statement, the president attempted to avoid the impression that he was against any solution to the "Cyprus question," though.
"At this moment I turn to the Turkish-Cypriot citizens to offer a message of peace and friendship," the president said. "It is our honest intention to find a solution, so that we can live together in our European home, one that respects our human rights and makes it possible for all citizens to make advances and achieve prosperity."
UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon also spoke of a solution being "close," and, after meeting with the former leader of Turkish Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talaht, Anastassiais sees continued reason for optimism.
Yet important questions remain, such as political representation rights for the Turkish community and the property rights of Greek Cypriots. Whether or not the new president can change anything is yet to be seen. It was with a similar sense of hope that Dimitris Christofias took office five years earlier, trying to bring his country closer to a solution.