NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriots began voting yesterday in a close presidential election between three front runners, with the electorate focussed more on corruption and the economy than the island’s long-standing division.
A record 14 candidates – but only two women – are standing, with the winner needing 50 per cent plus one vote to succeed two-term President Nicos Anastasiades.
Polling stations opened at 7am, chief returning officer Costas Constantinou said in a statement, adding that “voting commenced smoothly”.
Opinion polls predict a run-off on February 12, with no contender expected to secure an immediate outright majority.
Former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides is the favourite. Backed by centrist parties, the 49-year-old commands a firm lead 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 ruling conservatives, DISY.
The last opinion poll by state broadcaster CyBC on January 27 had Christodoulides leading at 26.5 per cent, Neofytou at 22.5 per cent and Mavroyiannis 21 per cent.
Many analysts believe that Christodoulides, who served in both Anastasiades administrations, is still the favourite.
“All polls indicate that Christodoulides is going to the second round. I would be very much surprised if he didn’t reach it,” said Andreas Theophanous of the Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs.
“And if he goes to the second round, he is predicted to win. Something radical has to happen to change this.”
Voters appear more concerned about a cash-for-passports scandal and the pressures of irregular migration on public resources than the island’s decades-old division.
Cyprus has been split since 1974, when Turkish forces occupied the island’s northern third in response to a Greek-sponsored coup.
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.