NICOSIA, Cyprus – The president of Cyprus appeared headed for a runoff election with a left-wing independent candidate after a first-round vote Sunday in which no candidate was likely to receive an outright majority.
With three-quarters of ballots counted, incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades looked set to face Stavros Malas, who’s backed by Cyprus’ communist-rooted AKEL party in a Feb. 4 runoff.
The official tally from Sunday’s balloting showed Anastasiades leading with nearly 35.7 percent of the vote and Malas with 30.1 percent.
Nicholas Papadopoulos, leader of the center-right DIKO party and the son of late Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, trailed in third place with nearly 25.6 percent.
Exit polls conducted by Cyprus’ state broadcaster RIK had Malas going up against Anastasiades in a second round.
Concerns over widespread voter apathy appeared to be borne out as around 30 percent of eligible voters didn’t casts ballots Sunday, a significant percentage given Cyprus’ traditionally high voter turnout rates.
As in previous years, the Mediterranean island nation’s decades-old ethnic division and numerous failed efforts to heal it dominated the concerns of voters. Many Cypriots also want more benefits from a rebounding economy to flow to a middle class struggling with the consequences of a 2013 financial crisis that nearly left the country bankrupt.
Cyprus was split into a Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and it maintains more than 35,000 Turkish troops in the north.
Anastasiades, 71, has campaigned on his experience, which he says brought reunification talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots farther than at any time in more than four decades.
But both Malas, 50, and Papadopoulos, 44, have attacked Anastasiades for the failure of the recent peace talks that ended in July. Malas said the president was not bold enough to clinch a deal, and Papadopoulos said the president made too many concessions at the talks.
Anastasiades and Malas have said they would reach out to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to the negotiations restarted. Papadopoulos said he would first sound out U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Malas and Papadopoulos also accused the incumbent of not doing enough to support the shrinking middle class that suffered after Cyprus needed a multibillion-euro rescue package from its Eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund in 2013.
Anastasiades has said his leadership brought the country’s economy back from near bankruptcy.
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