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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Cyprus Presidential Election Goes to Runoff With Ex-Foreign Minister in Lead

Cyprus Presidential Election Goes to Runoff With Ex-Foreign Minister in Lead – The race to become Cyprus’s eighth president will go into a second week after former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides emerged as the frontrunner but failed to garner enough votes to win outright. In a runoff on February 12, the 49-year-old independent will face Andreas Mavroyiannis, a veteran career diplomat backed by the leftist Akel party.

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Christodoulides received 32.04% of the vote in Sunday’s election, while his opponent received 29.6%, according to results given by the interior ministry. With all ballots counted, Averof Neofytou of the centre-right Disy party of outgoing president Nicos Anastasiades trailed with 26.11%. The outcome will come as a surprise because Mavroyiannis was considered an outsider.

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A first-round victory required a candidate to receive more than 50% of the vote. Christodoulides, who broke away from Disy to run his own campaign with the support of parties generally opposed to talks to end the country’s decades-long rift, was widely expected to win, despite predictions that the first-round vote would produce no clear winner.

“The day after elections should find us all united,” he told reporters after casting his ballot in his hometown of Paphos in the island’s south-west, alongside his wife and four daughters. “The elections will end, but the challenges and problems lie ahead of us.” A record 14 candidates ran for president.

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Others included the leading human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades, who had campaigned on a ticket of expediting peace talks with the island’s internationally isolated Turkish Cypriot community living on the other side of a UN-patrolled ceasefire line. Demetriades gained 2.1% of the vote.

Cyprus has been split since Ankara sent in troops in 1974, seizing its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the junta then in power in Athens aimed at uniting the country with Greece. A week of hectic horse-trading is likely before next Sunday’s runoff, as first-round winners try to build support by creating partnerships with opponents who did not advance.

In a debate on the eve of the election, Christodoulides seemingly refused to rule out joining forces with any party including the ultranationalist Elam. “A lot of people in Cyprus find the prospect of such an alliance, which would be a legitimisation of the far right, extremely worrying,” said Christoforos Christoforou, a political analyst specialised in elections. “At 6.1%, Elam won more votes than opinion polls had forecast,” he added.

For seasoned Cyprus observers, this is the most important presidential election since the country gained independence from Britain 63 years ago. With peace talks stalled since 2017, observers say the island’s ethnic split is ultimately at stake, as fears of formalization rise with each passing year.

In an election campaign dominated by other issues, including the cost of living crises, migration, and corruption, an increasing number of Greek Cypriots appear to have given up on a solution, confident in the fact that their recognized state is already a member of the EU.

Reunification attempts will necessitate herculean efforts on the part of the incoming president to persuade the international community that Cyprus’s majority population not only wants to begin discussions, but is prepared to make the concessions required to achieve sustainable peace.

Since the collapse of the last UN-supported process aimed at creating a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north have also hardened their stance with the election of a nationalist leader, Ersin Tatar, who has sought to reset the agenda by demanding a two-state solution. Chasms that have remained unbridgeable since the invasion have only widened.

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“Whoever wins will face the challenge of having to convince the UN that resuming negotiations will produce results,” said Christoforou. “This is the first time since 1974 that there has been such a long period without talks and since then both the atmosphere and situation on the ground has deteriorated dramatically.”

Christodoulides has proposed appointing a special EU envoy to facilitate negotiations, while Mavroyiannis, who led peace talks under Anastasiades, has suggested exploiting Cyprus’s offshore natural gas deposits with Turkish Cypriots as a way of easing the process. About 560,000 Greek Cypriots were eligible to cast ballots although officials said only about 400,000 turned up at polling stations.

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