Political Culture in the Vassiliou Era
The election of George Vassiliou in February 1988 was
unexpected. Although many Cypriots were increasingly
because of the lack of progress in the intercommunal talks
incumbent's reputation for passivity and ineffectiveness,
results were an upset. The first round, held on February
a plurality and 33.3 percent to Glafkos Clerides of DISY.
Vassiliou, an independent, came in second, with 30.1
the incumbent, Spyros Kyprianou of DIKO, came in third
percent. Kyprianou was defeated, according to Cypriot
opinion, because of inflexibility in the settlement talks
because of party maneuvering, including an unpopular
alliance with the communist party, AKEL.
The runoff between Clerides and Vassiliou was held on
21, and Vassiliou won by a little over 10,000 votes. He
percent; Clerides, a veteran of Cypriot politics and
president in 1974, polled 48.4 percent. Ironically, in the
contest the two men were in substantial agreement over the
settlement issue; both expressed eagerness to engage in
Denktas, and neither made withdrawal of Turkish troops a
precondition for talks. Some believe that Clerides
victory because of his past associations with right-wing
Born in Famagusta in 1931, Vassiliou completed
in Cyprus, and spent more than a decade studying and
Europe. He received a doctorate in economics in Hungary.
return to Cyprus in 1962, he founded and remained
president of the
Middle East Marketing Research Bureau, the largest
the region, with offices in eleven countries.
Vassiliou's campaign emphasized his wish to invigorate
settlement process. He offered to meet directly with both
thenPrime Minister Turgut Özal of Turkey and his Turkish
counterpart, Denktas. Without a strong party base,
decided to resurrect the National Council, first created
Makarios, with the hope that the political parties meeting
could forge a collective and consensus-based policy toward
settlement process. Vassiliou proceeded to work out new
the party leaders, including guidelines on which issues
their unanimous consent. He pledged to put any settlement
the people in a referendum. But his seemingly liberal
views on a
settlement were tempered by his policy commitment to
reinforce civil defense and increase defense spending.
A number of factors brought Vassiliou to power. The
to be sure, was frustrated by the impasse in the
and welcomed someone who spoke of new ideas and energy.
broadly, the vote may have signaled the end of the
and the desire for new leaders, rather than Makarios's
Vassiliou brought to the presidential palace skills
the private sector, such as prompt decision making,
analysis, marketing, and open competition, that promised
and more effective policy making. Some Cypriots welcomed
attempt to bring corporate boardroom concepts into
resented it. In his first two years in office, Vassiliou
constrained by the island's experienced politicians, who
different agendas, and by Turkish Cypriot strategies that
embrace the spirit of Vassiliou's settlement message.
The new president tried to introduce fresh faces into
executive branch. His first cabinet had only two ministers
previously held office: George Iacovou continued to serve
foreign minister, ensuring continuity in external
Christodoulos Veniamin took the post of interior minister,
had held, along with other cabinet posts, between 1975 and
May 1990, President Vassiliou replaced four of his cabinet
ministers and appointed several who had not served in
cabinets. For the most part, the outside appointees were
had the approval of one or more of the major parties.
Vassiliou had promised first and foremost to achieve
in the talks with Turkish Cypriots, through intercommunal
negotiations with Turkey. However, in his first two years
no breakthrough toward a settlement.
He achieved more in other areas. In the 1988 election
Vassiliou spoke of his desire to make changes in the civil
to end the spoils system that had created a large and
public sector. He pledged moves toward a meritocracy, and
to bring into government energetic, talented people from
sector. During his first two years in office, he was
replace the incumbent appointees to the Public Service
with his own candidates, because the parliament did not
funds for it. Nor did another campaign promise, to create
government ombudsman as a clearinghouse for complaints,
headway in the first two years of his presidency. He was
unable to wrest from the political parties appointments to
quasigovernmental posts such as utilities boards. He failed to
vigorously a campaign pledge to investigate charges of
in the police force.
Vassiliou's modest gains in these efforts were
the parties' resistance to the businessman-president's
parliament failed to approve many of his requests for new
positions, such as political appointments for ministerial
assistants and even experts to assist the president.
Vassiliou did manage to dilute the parties' power to
extent. Political patronage jobs, formerly the perquisites
largest party, were shared among the major parties,
Vassiliou's desire for a consensus-based political system.
Vassiliou often chose for appointed positions associates
skills he respected but who were also acceptable to one or
the major parties. This power sharing with the parties,
kept the new president from keeping his promise to reduce
of the public sector.
Yet Vassiliou's intelligence, energy, and worldliness
valued by Cyprus's friends overseas. Vassiliou visited all
European capitals, traveled in the United States, and
multilateral conferences to explain the Cyprus situation
support for new settlement efforts. He was troubled that
dramatic and triumphant world events of 1989 and 1990
world attention from the Cyprus problem, and he was
the prospects for its neglect. His presidency,
although it did not produce dramatic results, won respect
attention from a number of friendly governments.
Data as of January 1991