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Where the candidates stand on the big issues
WITH the elections just a week away, many of us may still be puzzling over who is the ‘right’ person for President, or, who would be the lesser evil. The blitz of the electoral campaign - both the information overload and the recriminations - often makes it hard to tell what the candidates stand for. And that should be a prerequisite for forming anything close to an informed opinion.
What with the bailout blues weighing down on us, a perfectly legitimate question pops up in our mind: is it even worth it to drive out to the ballot centre? That’s something that each individual must search his or her soul for an answer.
While you chew on that, here’s another thought: barring the quirky Outopos, you won’t find any life-changing ideas in the candidates’ rhetoric.
It’s not that the campaign is boring. Anything but, and it’s certainly helped that the once-ubiquitous Cyprus issue has been relegated to a sideshow. With the country facing financial ruination, the stakes this time round are perhaps as high as can be.
But, as political analyst Christoforos Christoforou puts it, none of the three main contenders offer a real vision for the country.
“We simply haven’t heard anything ground-breaking,” he says, speculating that the candidates are playing it safe for fear of alienating the undecided voters.
And the rhetoric of the three main candidates - Nicos Anastasiades, Stavros Malas and Giorgos Lillikas - is plagued by contradictions and inconsistencies, to varying degrees.
All three are bombarding the electorate with promises on how to salvage the island, but none have adequately explained how exactly they would pull it off, says Christoforou.
Anyhow, to make things easier, the views of the ‘Big Three’ have been packaged into three broad subjects: the bailout, the Cyprus problem, and natural gas.
Here’s the raw data folks, and the rest is up to you:
AT FIRST Lillikas was openly anti-bailout but, apparently realising this was not winning him votes, changed his tune and said he would sign a bailout but disengage from it in 2013 by paying debt off from natural gas proceeds.
He is critical of a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU), which, he says, is open to multiple interpretations on how much say lenders will have in telling Cyprus what to do.
The most updated position is that he will sign, but only if three key conditions are met: the gas proceeds will not be mortgaged to the troika, there is no provision mandating that the state budget must be approved by the troika; and the government is allowed to take tax incentive measures.
“Unless these three conditions are met, there is no question of us agreeing to a memorandum,” the candidate’s website states. Lillikas says he would press for renegotiation of a financial bailout.
On the thorny issue of the privatisation of state-controlled corporations, such as SGOs and public utilities, Lillikas was initially completely opposed. He has subsequently suggested a partial privatisation or ‘shares issue’ for these entities; the state would remain the main shareholder (with about a 75 per cent stake), and the management would be given to private interests.
Anastasiades has repeatedly called for a bailout to be concluded without delay, and for that he has been accused by his rivals of being keen to put Cyprus under the troika’s thumb. His election plank calls for restricting government involvement in business activities, smashing monopolies, reforming the tax regime and clamping down on tax evasion.
On SGOs, Anastasiades’ website says his administration would ‘examine’, on a case by case basis, the ‘possibility’ of a shares issue, running SGOs with a strategic partner, or outright denationalisation. However, during the first televised debate Anastasiades ducked a question as to whether he is in favour of privatising state-controlled corporations.
Whereas Malas is not averse to putting his John Hancock on a bailout now - a necessary evil - he’s adamant that it would be his last such deal. To avoid a second or third memorandum, he has said, he intends to put Cyprus back on its feet as soon as possible, by boosting economic growth. This would be achieved with a three-pronged attack: reforming/downsizing the banking sector; attracting foreign investments; and a policy of strict fiscal adjustment that also safeguards welfare spending.
Malas has criticised Anastasiades for rushing to put his signature on a bailout agreement, yet almost in the same breath conceded that the longer a deal takes the greater the harm to the economy.
Possibly a hostage to AKEL dogma, Malas does not want to hear of privatising SGOs. Instead he proposes modernizing their operational structure giving these organisations greater autonomy.
LILLIKAS maintains that outsiders should have no say in how the island manages its natural gas finds. The cornerstone of his plank centres on a proposal to securitise the undersea gas reserves, thus enabling the island to swiftly extricate itself from burdensome terms of aid. His rivals have trashed this view as unrealistic, unfeasible and amateurish.
Anastasiades meanwhile advocates a strategic alliance with Israel and the creation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on the island, with a view to channeling the gas to the “East and to Europe.” He has also not ruled out the possibility of Cyprus piping its gas to Europe via Turkey.
Malas’ views are similar to Anastasiades’: the AKEL-backed candidate says Cyprus should make the most of commercial deals in developing both economic and political alliances abroad, and has linked the natural gas issue to a solution of the Cyprus problem.
LILLIKAS was initially against a federation but later watered down his stance, saying he was in favour as long as there were five or six states (zones) so the federation would not be bi-zonal. A bi-zonal federation is an inherently divisive and racist arrangement, he argues. He advocates re-launching peace talks from square one, placing negotiations on a totally new track, essentially invalidating past agreements.
Anastasiades has also seemingly shifted gears with regard to the Cyprus problem, most likely to keep his DIKO partners happy. The framework agreement between DISY and DIKO is brazenly vague on many points, thus satisfying everyone, from the doves to the hawks. The DISY leader has, for example, pledged to repudiate President Christofias’ commitment for a rotating presidency in a reunified state.
Despite asserting he would never again back an Annan-like plan, Anastasiades has stopped short of apologising outright for his stance on that peace blueprint.
Malas holds that the framework of negotiations should remain unchanged, on the basis of the July 8, 2006 agreement between the two communities; he supports a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.