Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Who is the ambitious new President of Cyprus?

A brief look at the CV of the rising political star of the Eastern Mediterranean

Greece and Cyprus underwent historic changes in the period of 1973-1974. Students in Greece who were in revolt clashed with the military junta which had been in charge since April 1967. Moreover, the Greek junta opposed Archbishop Makarios' rule in Cyprus.

In 1973 the efforts to improve dialogue and cooperation between the two major groups on the island were put on hold. The Cypriot government's position became challenging both within Cyprus and internationally due to demands from the Greek military junta, a joint Turkish Cypriot-Turkish front, and calls for the island to be divided.

The eighth President of the Republic of Cyprus came into the world in Paphos, in 1974, amidst these trying times. A military coup and an invasion of the island's territory by a neighboring nation occurred a year after the birth of the ambitious politician who would make his mark on Cyprus in the 2010s and 2020s.

Cyprus was de facto divided in August 1974 when Turkish forces were stationed in the northern portion of its territory. After this event, Turkish Cypriots congregated in the internationally isolated north region of Cyprus, where in 1983, the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" was to be proclaimed, recognized only by Turkey. Greek Cypriots rebuilt their lives and the Cypriot state throughout the remainder of the island's south.

Nikos Christodoulides grew older and reached adulthood during the reconstruction period when the two communities of Cyprus attempted to come to an agreement based on the federal model and with the backing of the international community.

Studies and diplomatic career

The Republic of Cyprus experienced political stability and economic prosperity in the years following the war of 1974. Although the Cyprus Problem was still unsolved, the Cypriot state was able to recover from the effects of the conflict quickly and turned to the West. The gradual westward shift of Cyprus during the 1990s and 2000s cleared the ground for the Republic of Cyprus to join the European Union and the Eurozone.

Having completed his secondary education, Christodoulides went to the United States for his academic studies during these years of prosperity. He received his doctorate from the University of Athens School of Political Science and Public Administration in 2003. At Queens College of New York University, he studied political science, economics, Byzantine, and modern Greek studies. At the University of Malta and New York University, he continued his postgraduate studies in diplomacy.

After obtaining his Ph.D., Christodoulides decided to work in diplomacy. This decision was made as the Republic of Cyprus was enjoying one of its most prosperous times in terms of global politics. The nation was making steady strides in the direction of EU membership. Furthermore, the booming Cyprus economy was raising the spirits of diplomats both at home and abroad.

In 1999, Christodoulides became a member of the Diplomatic Service of the Republic of Cyprus. He served as Consul General in London, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Athens, and Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Cyprus to the European Union.

Christodoulides' diplomatic career's defining milestone occurred in 2012 when Cyprus took over the presidency of the European Council. The young diplomat served as Press Officer of the Presidency in Brussels.

Christodoulides' star shines in politics

Christodoulides entered the Cypriot political scene soon after Cyprus held the European Council presidency. On September 1, 2013, he was appointed Director of the Diplomatic Office of President Nikos Anastasiades.

The most pivotal time in Cyprus since the 1974 conflict coincided with Christodoulides' political debut. Cyprus experienced an unprecedented financial crisis at the start of 2013 that primarily hit its banking industry. Immediately upon its establishment, the new administration of Nikos Anastasiades sought the backing of foreign lenders and then went on to implement harsh economic policies like the dissolution of the nation's second-largest bank and the haircut of depositors' deposits.

Christodoulides served in President Nikos Anastasiades' foreign office before taking over as the government spokesman during the neoliberal structural changes to the Cyprus economy. The aspirational politician vehemently endorsed Anastasiades' policies and decisions in the domestic political and economic sphere concerning the Cyprus crisis. On the front of the Cyprus Problem, from 2015 to 2017, Christodoulides accompanied President Anastasiades to all the critical meetings during the most recent attempt to solve the issue using the bi-zonal, bi-communal federal model.

Christodoulides returned to the Cypriot Foreign Ministry, which he had left in 2013, this time as Foreign Minister, following the failure of the attempt to resolve the Cyprus issue. He was the driving force behind significant measures that brought Cyprus close to the United States and several of its neighbors during his time as foreign minister. The American arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus was gradually lifted due to increased communication and collaboration with the US. Cyprus established multifaceted partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel in the early 2020s.

The Cyprus Presidency and the new challenges

Early in 2022, Christodoulides announced his intention to run for president and resigned from his position as foreign minister. Upon his resignation, the aspiring politician engaged in open conflict with the leading center-right party in Cyprus, DISY. The party declined to back his bid and went on to nominate a different candidate.

Christodoulides sought the opposition parties, the so-called "middle ground," following the split with DISY. Several parties with ambiguous positions on the Cyprus Question, the economy, and the political landscape (one of them opposes the concept of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation) who claimed to stand between the center-right DISY and the Cypriot Left ultimately decided to support Christodoulides' candidacy in the 2023 presidential elections.

Christodoulides narrowly won the first round of the presidential elections in February 2023 after pledging political and economic stability for Cypriot society as well as a resolution to the Cyprus issue under conditions specified by the Greek Cypriot side (even though in recent years, the Turkish side claims that the chapter on the federal solution is now closed).

In the second round of the presidential election, Christodoulides defeated Andreas Mavrogiannis, a career diplomat running with the backing of AKEL, the traditional party of the Cypriot Left. Following the declaration of the outcome, Christodoulides announced the establishment of a new administration involving several parties.

The election of Nikos Christodoulides to Cyprus' highest post has elicited various responses from Cypriot society. Even though 204,867 voters (51.97%) supported him on February 12, the fact that he gave his inaugural statement as President of Cyprus to a largely empty audience on election night portends future developments.

The largest party in Cyprus declares that it will not back Christodoulides' administration and that, during the next administration, it will take on the responsibilities of the main opposition party. AKEL holds similar views. Christodoulides faces distrust from the liberal segments of society that insist on a bi-zonal, bi-communal solution, in addition to his exclusion from the major parties. The liberal segments of society are concerned about Christodoulides' involvement in the Anastasiades governments, which have a history of scandals and corruption and are to blame for the most recent failure of talks to find a peaceful solution to the Cyprus Problem. The Turkish Cypriot community also harbors this suspicion.

If the liberal Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots' greatest fear comes true and efforts to solve the Cyprus Issue are unsuccessful, Cyprus will be in danger of being permanently divided. Due to the Turkish Cypriot element losing socio-political ground in the northern portion of the island with every new day, the partition may make Turkey a neighbor of Cyprus. At the same time, Cyprus may face further difficulties due to the unpredictability of the global political and economic environment. The former Cypriot ambassador and current politician will undoubtedly need to use all his abilities and contacts inside and outside Cyprus in the upcoming period to stop these fatal perils for his nation.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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