Cypriots vote for new president who could unify island
By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cypriots were voting Sunday for a new president who they hope will overcome years of failure and finally resolve the ethnic divisions that have torn the Mediterranean island nation into a Greek-speaking south and a breakaway, Turkish-speaking north.
Voters in internationally recognized 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 percent support needed to avoid a Feb. 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 just over 30 percent of voters have cast ballots so far, nearly nine percent fewer than the 2013 presidential election.
“I urge all citizens to come out and vote,” 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 Papadopoulos.
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.
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 Malas, 50, and Papadopoulos, 44, have attacked Anastasiades for the failure of the peace talks in July, with Malas saying the president was not bold enough to clinch a deal and 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 hit hard after 2013 when Cyprus needed a multibillion-euro rescue package from its Eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops there.