NICOSIA ---The efforts to solve the Cyprus problem, the stalemate in the UN-led direct talks, a UN-proposed solution plan (the Annan Plan) as well as the discovery of natural gas in relation to the solution dominated the second televised presidential debate between the three main contenders in February’s elections.
Presidential elections are held every five years in Cyprus.
A total of 11 people will contest the elections, including the main three candidates. If no candidate secures 50% plus on February 17, there will be a run off election on 24th of February.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The latest round of UN-backed talks resumed in 2008 with the aim to reunite the island under a federal roof, but have produced little results.
The Annan plan was rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Greek Cypriots in April 2004, as imbalanced, partial in favour of Turkish demands, not leading to reunification and not meeting Greek Cypriot concerns over their security, the functionality and the viability of the proposed state.
The Turkish Cypriots approved the Annan plan by majority vote.
The second televised debate took place Monday night between the President of the main opposition right wing party Democratic Rally (DISY) Nikos Anastasiades, who is backed by centre right Democratic Party DIKO, Stavros Malas, who will run having secured the backing of the ruling left win party AKEL, and the independent candidate, former foreign minister, Giorgos Lillikas, who is backed mainly by the socialist party EDEK.
Anastasiades, speaking during the debate, referred to the need for increased active involvement by the EU in the solution effort, pointing out also that any new UN plan must meet their concerns, if the people of Cyprus are to approve it.
He said that if a second plan is rejected by the people, this would be catastrophic for the island and would lead to partition.
Anastasiades, who backed the Annan Plan in 2004, said that a similar peace plan, which was rejected by majority by the Greek Cypriot community during a referendum, cannot be put forward, stressing that the objective is to have a new plan that would reunite the island and end the Turkish occupation.
Replying to a question, Anastasiades pointed out that he supports a bizonal, bicommunal federation, adding that “whether we like it or not, this is the basis of the solution”.
He further noted that his positions are based on the 1977-79 High-level agreements, the 8th of July agreement and the document which was agreed by consensus in September 2009 by the National Council, the top advisory body to the President.
DISY leader also said that in order for the direct talks to resume, a thorough preparation must take place and the National Council must come up with a set of proposals to put forward on a European level to secure the backing of European partners.
Stavros Malas, former Minister of Health in Christofias’ Cabinet, who also backed the Annan Plan in 2004, said that he is not going to apologize for his position during the referendum on the plan, stressing however that he is not going to negotiate a similar peace plan.
He said that he supports a solution that would provide for a united federal state in which the three fundamental freedoms will be respected and the refugees would be able to return to their homes.
Malas also talked about an active involvement of the EU in the Cyprus effort as well as an interconnection between the solution and the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
In his statements Malas pointed out that all the politicians and especially those who seek to be elected must be reliable and must have firm positions as regards the Cyprus solution. He criticized his opponents, saying they are not trustworthy and their proposals are not realistic, adding that if elected, he will work for unity among the political parties.
Malas underlined that Cyprus must work hard for strategic alliances through which it can exert pressure on Ankara to change its stance towards the Cyprus solution.
George Lillikas, an independent candidate, who has the support of EDEK and who served twice as Minister during the late President Tassos Papadopoulos’ government, noted that the policy which the Greek Cypriot side has followed on the Cyprus problem since 1974 has not paid up.
He said that the direct talks between the two communities in Cyprus haven’t brought the people anywhere near a solution, on the contrary they have taken away the blame from Turkey.
He criticized his opponents for their position on the Annan Plan, noting that they were too eager to support it but were proven wrong.
Lillikas said that his own proposals on the Cyprus solution are nothing less that an expansion of the late President Papadopoulos’ policies. He said that “we need to take advantage of the new situation in Cyprus, following the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves.”
Lillikas condemned statements by his opponents for the construction of a possible pipeline through Turkey, as long as Turkey occupies Cyprus’ territory.
Exploratory drilling conducted by Huston-based Noble Energy in Block 12 of Cyprus’ EEZ has revealed a gross natural gas reserve from 3 to 9 trillion cubic feet (tcf) with a 60% probability of geologic success.
Noble is expected to extract and transfer to Cyprus natural gas by late 2018.
Contracts were also signed on January 24 with the ENI/KOGAS consortium for hydrocarbons exploration in blocks 2, 3 and 9 within Cyprus’ EEZ.