March 1. 2024. 2:29

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Greek Cypriots to vote in first round of republic’s presidential election

Greek Cypriots are set to cast ballots on Sunday in the first round of the republic’s eleventh presidential election since independence in 1960. As no candidate is expected to secure 50-plus per cent of the vote, the two leading candidates will compete in a run-off round on February 12th.

More than 560,000 people are registered to vote in a population of 915,000, but 172,000 did not register, including 72,000 in the 18-25 age group. The feeling that elections change nothing seems to have fuelled apathy, which could prompt abstention by some registered voters.

A record 14 candidates, including a dozen independents, are standing, but the contest involves only three establishment figures, two from the Democratic Rally, which has been in office for the past decade. Rally stalwart, ex-foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides, who is running as an independent, remains in the lead with 26 per cent, while his closest competitor, Rally president Averof Neophidou, has 22.5 per cent. Former diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, who is backed by the communist Akel party, stands at 21 per cent.

Mr Christodoulides reportedly has the support of outgoing two-term president and ex-Rally leader Nicos Anastasiades.

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Although the remaining 11 independent candidates poll between 2-5 per cent, they could influence the second-round outcome by directing supporters to vote for one or other first-round victor.

Rising prices for food, fuel, and housing constitute the most pressing issue. Last week tens of thousands of civil servants, teachers, trades unionists, journalists, and hospital staff staged a three-hour strike in the republic’s main cities and towns to demand the reinstatement of a cost-of-living allowance. This was the largest popular demonstration on the island since 1950, when an end to British rule was the cause.

The arrival of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, who constitute 6 per cent of the republic’s population, and corruption are other leading issues. About 20,000 asylum applications were submitted last year, while Cyprus ranks 52nd on the Transparency International list of 180 countries, topped by least corrupt Denmark.

Only one minor candidate, independent Achilleas Demetriades, has seriously addressed resumption of negotiations with Turkish Cypriots with the aim of reuniting the island, divided since Turkey occupied the north in 1974 following a failed coup by the Greek military junta. Ahead of the vote, he met former Turkish Cypriot president Mustafa Akinci, who is committed to the internationally mandated bizonal, bicommunal federation. His successor Ersin Tatar has demanded a “two-state solution”.

Turkish Cypriot independence was adopted in 2019 by Ankara and its Turkish Cypriot partners but rejected by most Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

Mr Mavroyiannis and Mr Neophitou are seen as more ready to reopen negotiations on federation than Mr Christodoulides if the Turkish side drops the two-state demand.