Economy is key as the conservative candidate easily wins round one.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 23/02/13
Conservative candidate Nicos Anastasiades failed to win a majority in the presidential election in Cyprus. [AFP]
Cypriots failed to give any of three candidates in the presidential election a majority, setting up a runoff Sunday (February 24th) between Conservative Nicos Anastasiades and Communist-backed Stavros Malas.
In the February 17th first round, Anastasiades, leader of the DISY party, got 45.46 percent, less than the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win. Malas, supported by the AKEL party, had 26.91 percent. Former Foreign Minister George Lillikas came in third with 24.93 percent and was eliminated.
With Cyprus needing a bailout from international lenders of as much as 17 billion euros, voters said the economy is the island's most important issue.
Incumbent President Demetris Christofias didn't run, meeting his vow not to seek office again if he failed to reunify the divided island. He said banks' greed and regulatory shortcomings caused Cyprus' economic collapse.
Anastasiades, 66, urged voters to look beyond partisan lines.
"We must all unite forces, to counter this economic crisis which unfortunately our homeland has never experienced before," he said.
Malas has tried to set himself apart from Christofias, but Anastasiades is the likely winner, said George Leventis, director of the International Security Forum on Cyprus.
"The communists had really made a mess, with a very poor record on the economy," Leventis, told SETimes. "The bicommunal talks that were supposed to reach a settlement also failed badly."
Anastasiades is more supportive of tough bailout terms while Malas, 45, is opposed to the austerity measures that are similar to those in Greece, which is being propped up by loans from the EU-IMF-ECB Troika.
Some Eurozone countries are reluctant to bail out Cyprus because of the island's reputation as a money-laundering haven. Additionally, the new president will have to deal with the thorny question of reunification.
Since an armed conflict in the summer of 1974, Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have co-existed on the island. TRNC President Dervis Eroglu is expected to remain a hardliner in unification talks when his Greek counterpart is elected, although Anastasiades has taken a more moderate stance than Christofias.
Ahmet Sozen, director of the Cyprus Policy Centre in Famagusta, told SETimes that Anastasiades "is somebody who believes in the need of a solution." But, he cautioned: "[Anastasiades] has a more urgent issue to attend -- the economic crisis and the memorandum with the EU," setting out tough bailout terms.
Stavros Karkaletsis, a Cyprus liaison for Greece's ruling New Democracy party and head of the Athens-based Hellenic Centre for European and International Analyses, said Anastasides will prevail.
"He’s going to look for a fast solution to reunification [and] he thinks the Troika is necessary for Cyprus so there won't be strong resistance," he told SETimes.
Correspondent Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul contributed to this report.