NICOSIA: Greek Cypriots headed back to the polls on Sunday in a runoff presidential vote between an incumbent conservative pledging to re-energise talks at ending the island’s division, and a leftist opponent who accuses him of squandering chances of a deal.
Sunday’s ballot pits President Nicos Anastasiades, 71, against leftist backed Stavros Malas. Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT with exit polls giving a first snapshot of voting when they close at 1600 GMT. Results should be final a little over two hours after voting ends.
Anastasiades got 35.51 and Malas 30.24 per cent of the vote in the first round of elections on Jan. 28, with the remaining cast among candidates who had taken a harder line than either in peace talks with estranged Turkish Cypriots.
But many voters also preferred to stay away, with the abstention rate at 28 per cent.
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.
Peace talks collapsed last year over the role that Turkey could play in a post-settlement Cyprus.
Anastasiades, who represented the Greek Cypriot side in those talks, faced criticism at home for either being too concessionary, or, as Malas suggests, tactical blunders in missing one of the best chances in a generation to solve the logjam.
Anastasiades denies both.
The runners-up from last week’s poll have refused to endorse either candidate, unusual in Cypriot election run-offs where the intervening week between votes is normally used to forge alliances.
“The new president will have a mandate directly from the people and not one via a politician seeking a share of the spoils,” the liberal Cyprus Mail daily wrote in an editorial, lauding the end of a ‘sheep mentality’ which guided voters in the past.