People in the Republic of Cyprus have begun voting for their eighth president in the ethnically divided island’s 63-year history as an independent state, with three frontrunners.
Heralding the end of two terms for incumbent conservative President Nicos Anastasiades, some 561,000 Greek Cypriots are eligible to vote in the election on Sunday after a campaign dominated by issues such as corruption, labour disputes related to accelerating inflation, irregular migration, and a deadlocked peace process with estranged Turkish Cypriots who live in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Polling stations opened at 7am (05:00 GMT) and close at 6pm (16:00 GMT). Weather forecasters said there will be heavy rain and storms on Sunday, which could affect voter turnout.
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With 14 candidates in the running, opinion polls point to a race between three frontrunners.
Nikos Christodoulides, 49, a former government spokesman and foreign minister who has consistently led all opinion polls throughout the months-long campaign, is running as the candidate who can bridge party affiliations and ideological fault lines to unite a fractured electorate.
Opinion polls have consistently shown Christodoulides will head into the run-off against either the right-wing DISY party leader Averof Neophytou or career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, who is backed by the leftist AKEL party.
An editorial in the liberal daily newspaper Politis said Cyprus had been called to elect a president to rule “with honesty, fairness and transparency”, while bigger-selling Phileleftheros highlighted expectations of high voter abstention.
Cypriots will expect the new president to quickly move to buttress an economy buffeted by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its knock-on effect on the cost of living.
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Cyprus has complied with all sanctions against Russia and Belarus, following the invasion of Ukraine.
Capitalising on Cyprus’ offshore natural gas deposits amid an energy crunch and getting back to the negotiating table with breakaway Turkish Cypriots to resolve the island’s ethnic division are also priority issues.
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Numerous United Nations mediations to overcome the division have failed. Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004, but EU law and regulations apply only in the Greek Cypriot south.