Cypriots vote for new president in close contest

AFP , Sunday 5 Feb 2023

Cypriots voted on Sunday in a close presidential election between three front runners, with the electorate focused on corruption and the economy amid deadlock over the island's long-standing division.

Former Cypriot foreign minister
Former Cypriot foreign minister and presidential candidate Nikos Christodoulides addresses supporters during a campaign meeting in the southern coastal city of Larnaca, on January 24, 2023. AFP


A record 14 candidates -- but only two women -- are standing, with the winner needing 50 percent plus one vote to succeed two-term President Nicos Anastasiades.

Opinion polls predict a run-off on February 12, with no contender expected to secure an immediate outright majority.

"I expect the next president to do something about corruption and to settle the Cyprus question," said civil servant Andreas Georgiadis, 29, after voting in the capital Nicosia.

Many analysts say former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides is the favourite. Backed by centrist parties, the 49-year-old commands a firm lead in opinion polls but not enough to shake off his rivals.

He is likely to face off in the second round against either Andreas Mavroyiannis, a 66-year-old technocrat backed by communist party AKEL, or Averof Neofytou, 61, leader of the governing conservatives, DISY.

"Only through unity, through a collective effort, can we really meet the expectations of the Cypriot people," said Christodoulides after voting in Paphos, in the island's southwest.

The last opinion poll by state broadcaster CyBC on January 27 had Christodoulides leading at 26.5 percent, Neofytou at 22.5 percent and Mavroyiannis 21 percent.

Corruption, the economy

"All polls indicate that Christodoulides is going to the second round," said Andreas Theophanous of the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.

"And if he goes to the second round, he is predicted to win," he added.

Chief returning officer Costas Constantinou said turnout at 12:00 pm (1000 GMT) stood at 33.7 percent.

Voters appeared concerned about a cash-for-passports scandal and the pressures of irregular migration on public resources, while the issue of the island's decades-old division remains at an impasse.

Cyprus has been split since 1974, when Turkish forces occupied the island's northern third in response to a Greek-sponsored coup.

"Some things must change radically in my view, on the Cyprus problem and the economy," teacher Maria Christodoulou, 45, told AFP at a polling station in Nicosia.

The centrist parties that back Christodoulides take a tough line on reunification talks, but his rivals are seen as less hawkish.

Neofytou is seen as a pragmatist and "dealmaker", while Mavroyiannis backer AKEL champions reconciliation with the Turkish Cypriots.

'All about personality'

Analysts say campaign pledges to root out corruption and improve the economy are key issues for the electorate.

"Corruption is at the core of the discussion, the economy and daily life. The Cyprus problem is a secondary issue," said Giorgos Kentas, associate professor of international politics and governance at the University of Nicosia.

Although Christodoulides had served in both Anastasiades administrations, he seems to have escaped the taint of corruption.

"People know there is corruption; the explanation that Christodoulides gave seems plausible to them -- that he had no direct responsibility, and they believe that," said Theophanous.

Kentas believes Christodoulides is attracting support because he is seen as independent.

"This election is all about personality, and people like Christodoulides," said Kentas.

"The other two main candidates are supported by political parties in a top-down process. Christodoulides did not reach out for support -- they reached out to him."

Kentas believes whoever is elected will need "to work hard to re-establish the country's credibility on the world stage."

Despite January inflation slowing to 7.1 percent from 7.9 percent in December, high energy and food prices remain a concern.

"Irrespective of who wins, there is the challenge of low salaries and high rents faced by the younger generation," said Theophanous.

More than 561,000 people are eligible to vote, including 10,346 Cypriots abroad, chief returning officer Constantinou said on Friday.

Polls are set to close at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).

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