Cyprus presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades of the right-wing Democratic Rally party addresses journalists after voting for a presidential election at a polling station in Limassol, Cyprus January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
By Michele Kambas
ATHENS (Reuters) – Cyprus went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president whose biggest task will be to find a way to restart peace talks which collapsed in acrimony in July 2017 over the future role Turkey may play on the island.
The incumbent conservative Nicos Anastasiades was leading opinion polls. Barring a major upset, the vote will not produce a clear winner, leading to a runoff on Feb. 4.
Voting started at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and would continue until 6 p.m. Final results were due at 8.30 p.m. though clear trends were expected to be known considerably earlier.
Anastasiades, who steered the country through an economic crisis almost immediately after assuming the presidency in 2013, is keen to capitalise on economic recovery, though his detractors say it came at a heavy price.
“Political opponents are not those who sought the presidency, but (opponents are) the problems people face and that requires unity, cooperation and proper planning,” he told reporters after casting his ballot in his home town of Limassol.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup, and the EU member state hosts one of the world’s longest serving peacekeeping forces with Greek Cypriots in the south, and Turkish Cypriots in the north.
Sunday’s vote is likely to be a closely-fought race for second place between Nikolas Papadopoulos, son of the late President Tassos Papadopoulos who led Greek Cypriots into rejecting a United Nations unification blueprint in 2004, and Stavros Malas, a genetics scientist backed by the left-wing AKEL party.
Papadopoulos takes hard line in negotiations and has accused Anastasiades of making too many concessions.
“Candidates are not the protagonists today. It is the citizens who boost democracy through participation and their choices the future of our country for a solution with a new strategy..for change, credibility and hope.”
It will be the second time in the ring for Malas, who got through to a runoff which Anastasiades eventually won in 2013. He believes peace negotiations should resume as quickly as possible.
“They have seen and heard us, compared us and now its time for them to judge us. It’s a time of judgement for those who did not insult voters intelligence and those which really offer hope for a better future,” Malas said.
Just over 550,000 Greek Cypriots have the right to vote.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Stephen Coates and Raissa Kasolowsky)