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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Kingmaker becomes King ]

Kingmaker becomes King


TWENTY years ago this year, Demetris Christofias, 61, was elected general-secretary of the communist party AKEL. Yesterday, he was voted president of Cyprus with 53.37 per cent of the vote, the island’s first-ever Communist president.

Despite AKEL’s strong representation in Parliament, the party never before fielded its own candidate in a presidential election, even though it helped secure the presidency for George Vassiliou in 1988 and Tassos Papadopoulos in 2003.

After spending four and a half years in the Papadopoulos government, Christofias and AKEL broke ranks with the coalition last summer to take a shot at the presidency, but to do so, Christofias has had to return to DIKO to secure a win.

Some would say it’s the same coalition with a different face, but Christofias promises to do more for the stalled Cyprus problem than his predecessor, or at least that is the image that AKEL projects.

In addition to his party’s participation in government, Christofias was also long-time President of the House of Representatives and is widely accredited with forging ties with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s Republican Turkish Party. However, contacts have waned somewhat since the referendum on the Annan Plan in 2004 when AKEL failed to support the UN blueprint.

This also lost him some confidence among the international community, as did his first partnership with Papadopoulos’ party DIKO. But Christofias, like his election rival Ioannis Kasoulides, has pledged to pick up the phone to Talat.

To the Turkish Cypriots and the international community, any president other than Papadopoulos was a hope for progress.

Born in Dikomo in the Kyrenia District in August 1946, Christofias has been publicly involved with the left since the age of 14, when he joined the Pancyprian United Students’ Organisation.

In 1964, he became a member of AKEL, through the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO) and the United Democratic Youth Organisation (EDON). In 1969, at the 5th congress of EDON, he was elected member of its Central Council.

In 1968, a year before leaving for his studies in Moscow, Christofias, whose father ran the coffeeshop in the AKEL building, gave the address at a party gathering attended by AKEL founder Ezekias Papaioannou.

Papaioannou was reportedly so impressed with the young Christofias that he said: “Watch this youngster. I like him very much.”

The year before he stepped down as AKEK leader at the age of 80, he had backed Christofias as his successor.

In Moscow Christofias studied at the Institute of Social Sciences and the Academy of Social Sciences until 1974 and graduated with a doctorate in Philosophy in History.

Christofias married Elsie Chiratou in 1972 and they have three children – two daughters, Marianna and Christina, and a son, Christos. He speaks fluent Russian.

In 1974, following the completion of his studies, he returned to Cyprus and was employed by EDON, where he was elected to the post of central organisational secretary and, in 1977, to the post of general secretary. He served at this post until 1987.

In 1976, he was elected member of the Nicosia-Kyrenia District Committee of AKEL, in 1982 member of the Central Committee, in 1986 member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee and in 1987 member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the party.

Following the death of Papaioannou in April 1988, Christofias was appointed acting general secretary by the Political Bureau of the AKEL Central Committee. He was elected general secretary a few weeks later, and re-elected four more times in 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005.

Christofias was elected to parliament in 1991 and re-elected in 1996, 2001 and 2006. He was elected House President first in 2001 and again in 2006.

Christofias’ leadership of AKEL coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the party suffered some damage, but Christofias pledged to make it powerful again. Now, despite his success and popularity at home, he may yet need to prove himself a ‘European’ president.

For four and a half years he supported a government widely seen as slamming the door on efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. Initially, Christofias seemed to back the Annan plan, but then recommended “a soft no to cement the yes”, sealing the fate of efforts at reunification.

AKEL will also need to prove wrong those wary of the party’s negative stance towards the EU and Cyprus’ entry to the euro zone.

And Christofias will need to prove the world that the communist tag is not a serious threat. Often in the past, he has chosen populism over statesmanship at the expense of the big powers. He once referred to Britain as the ‘evil demon’, responsible for all of the past ills of Cyprus. And asked once on a television interview what small countries had emerged unscathed from confrontations with big powers. Christofias replied: “Vietnam and Cuba fought and won.”


Cyprus Mail





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