June 20. 2024. 1:13

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Two diplomats compete in Cyprus presidential run-off


Cypriots return to the polls Sunday (12 February) to choose a new president from between the two front-runners in last weekend’s first round — ex-foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides and career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis.

Christodoulides is backed by centrist parties that take a hard line on moribund UN-backed talks on ending the island’s decades-old division.

Mavroyiannis is supported by the main opposition communist party AKEL, which takes a more dovish line.

Following are short profiles of the two candidates.

Christodoulides

Christodoulides served as government spokesman then foreign minister under outgoing President Nicos Anastasiades but quit as minister last year to enter the race against the ruling right-wing DISY party’s own candidate.

Pre-election opinion polls had given Christodoulides a comfortable lead, but last Sunday’s first round proved unexpectedly close-fought.

The former minister took 32.04% of the vote, against 29.59% for Mavroyiannis.

Christodoulides now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of wooing votes from DISY, the party he broke with, after its candidate Averof Neofytou failed to make the run-off.

Right-wing DISY would usually be expected to urge its supporters to vote against a communist-backed candidate, but Neofytou is despised by many in the party as a “traitor” who put personal ambition over the interests of the party and the island.

He was expelled from the party after he formally registered as a candidate last month.

At a stormy meeting that ran into the early hours of Wednesday, DISY decided to support neither Christodoulides nor Mavroyiannis in the run-off but instead go into opposition.

The former foreign minister will need to hope as many as possible of the 26.11% of voters who chose Neofytou in the first round are more forgiving of his decision.

Christodoulides has said he wants a bigger role for the European Union in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, a role long reserved for the United Nations, which has run a peacekeeping force on the island since 1964.

At 49, the married father of four is the younger of the two candidates in the run-off.

He has said that if elected, he will try to form a government of national unity.

Mavroyiannis

Mavroyiannis is a career diplomat who served as Greek Cypriot chief negotiator in the last round of UN-backed reunification talks that broke down in Switzerland in 2017.

His first-round showing, in which he squeezed out the DISY candidate into third place for the first time in the party’s history, surprised many observers.

During his campaign, Mavroyiannis criticised both the outgoing president and his former foreign minister for failing to accept the reunification proposals on the table in Switzerland as a basis for further talks.

He has said he would telephone UN chief António Guterres on day one of his presidency to relaunch the talks process.

Independent candidate Achilleas Demetriades, who took two percent of the vote in the first round, called on his supporters on Thursday to vote for Mavroyiannis in the run-off, warning that the island was “sleepwalking towards partition”.

Cyprus has been split since 1974, when Turkish forces occupied the island’s northern third in response to a Greek-sponsored coup.

But the AKEL-backed candidate will also need to sway the many voters less interested in the Cyprus conflict than in the economy.

The island, which is heavily dependent on imports, has been hit hard by soaring global fuel and commodity prices.

In a bid not to scare off potential support for its candidate among right-wing voters, AKEL has underlined that a Mavroyiannis government would not be communist-led.

At 66, Mavroyiannis is the older candidate. A widower, he has two children.

At EU summits, Cyprus is represented by its President.