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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Cyprus president set to face leftist independent in runoff

With nearly 35.7 per cent of vote, president Anastasiades looks set to face Stavros Malas in a February 4 runoff

Cyprus presidential candidate Nikolas Papadopoulos leader of the center-right DIKO party, accompanied by his family, casts his ballot at a polling station in Nicosia, Cyprus on January 28, 2018. Stefanos Kouratzis / Reuters
Cyprus presidential candidate Nikolas Papadopoulos leader of the center-right DIKO party, accompanied by his family, casts his ballot at a polling station in Nicosia, Cyprus on January 28, 2018. Stefanos Kouratzis / Reuters

The president of Cyprus appeared headed for a runoff election with a left-wing independent candidate after a first-round vote Sunday in which no candidate was likely to receive an outright majority.

With three-quarters of ballots counted, incumbent president Nicos Anastasiades looked set to face Stavros Malas, who's backed by Cyprus' communist-rooted AKEL party in a February 4 runoff.

The official tally from Sunday's balloting showed Mr Anastasiades leading with nearly 35.7 percent of the vote and Malas with 30.1 percent.

Cypriots voted on Sunday in hope that a new president will overcome years of failure and resolve ethnic divisions between the island's Turkish and Greek communities.

Voters in the internationally recognised southern Cyprus were also seeking more benefits from an economy on the rebound after a severe financial crisis.

Opinion polls show incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades leading his two main rivals but he may not get the 50 per cent support needed to avoid a February 4 runoff.

Concerns have arisen over widespread voter apathy, especially among young people unhappy with a political system they see as tainted by corruption and ineptitude.

Halfway through the voting, chief returning officer Kypros Kyprianou said that just over 30 per cent of voters had cast ballots, nearly nine per cent fewer than the 2013 presidential election.

"I urge all citizens to come out and vote," Mr Anastasiades said after casting his ballot. "No one is justified to complain about the election's results afterward."

Challengers include Stavros Malas, backed by the communist AKEL party, and Nicholas Papadopoulos, leader of the center-right DIKO party and the son of the late former president Tassos Papadopoulos.

"Democracy is strengthened with voters' participation," said Mr Papadopoulos.

Mr Malas urged citizens not to let others choose a president for them.

Voter Stella Olympiou said: "I'm hoping for a solution to Cyprus' division first of all and to improve the people's standard of living, to give us back the cuts from our salaries."

Another voter said the new president needs to push the country forward. "We've been at a standstill too long," she said.

Mr Anastasiades, 71, says this will be his last five-year term if re-elected. He has campaigned on his experience, which he says brought reunification talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots farther along than at any time in more than four decades of fruitless negotiations and brought the economy back from near bankruptcy.

But both Mr Malas, 50, and Mr Papadopoulos, 44, have attacked Mr Anastasiades for the failure of the peace talks in July, with Mr Malas saying the president was not bold enough to clinch a deal and Mr Papadopoulos saying the president made too many concessions at the talks.

They also accuse him of not doing enough to support a shrinking middle class that in 2013 was hit hard when Cyprus found itself in need of a multibillion-euro rescue package from its Eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded the island following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognises a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops there.

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