NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Voters in Cyprus are choosing between a conservative incumbent and a left-leaning independent in a presidential runoff Sunday, amid questions whether an agreement to reunify the ethnically divided island nation can be found anytime soon.
Their choice will also depend on which candidate they feel can deliver more benefits from a rebounding economy.
It’s the second time that President Nicos Anastasiades has faced off against independent Stavros Malas in a runoff. Earlier polls have shown Anastasiades handily beating Malas, but the independent’s strong showing in the first round of voting could make it a closer race.
Anastasiades, 71, says Cyprus needs more of his experienced leadership to stay the course and not to repeat policies that set the economy on a downward spiral.
Malas, a 50-year-old backed by the communist-rooted AKEL party, says change is needed to raise islanders’ standard of living.
A key variable is what voters who supported neither candidate in the first round will do. More than a third of first-round votes went to candidates other than Anastasiades and Malas – and nearly 28 percent of the eligible 551,000 voters didn’t vote at all.
Many of those votes in the first round went to center-right DIKO party leader Nicholas Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos has taken a tougher stance on reunification talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots, accusing both Anastasiades and Malas of a willingness to make too many concessions. DIKO and smaller parties who supported Papadopoulos’ candidacy decided not to endorse either runoff candidate.
“Our country still faces problems and what’s needed is the cooperation of us all,” Anastasiades said after voting Sunday. “Irrespective of who will be the winner tonight, tomorrow must be a day for everyone, by everyone.”
Casting his ballot, Malas appealed to young people, women and blue-collar workers still feeling the sting from a financial crisis that nearly bankrupt the country five years ago.
“We want to build bridges between state institutions and citizens. And the best way to do so is to always speak the truth, truth, truth and not lies,” said Malas.
Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.