Cyprus presidential election enters second round

After neither candidate received a majority of votes on Sunday, Cyprus's former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides will face career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis in a second round of presidential elections next week.

To succeed two-term President Nicos Anastasiades, the winner must receive 50% plus one vote.

Christodoulides, the pre-poll favorite, is leading a close race with 32.04 percent of the vote, followed by Mavroyiannis with 29.58 percent.

"Cyprus spoke today. "It said a lot," Christodoulides said late Sunday. "I'm prepared to take on this enormous responsibility."

"I maintain my support for a government of broad acceptance. "No one is off the table," he said.

Averof Neofytou's future as leader of the ruling conservative party DISY appears bleak after finishing third with 26.11 percent of the vote.

Despite being endorsed by the incumbent, the seasoned politician is the first DISY candidate in party history not to advance past the first round.

The interior ministry reported that 72.03 percent of the eligible electorate, which included 10,346 Cypriots living abroad, voted on Sunday.

Analysts said Mavroyiannis, a 66-year-old technocrat supported by the communist party AKEL, surprised observers on Sunday by ousting Neofytou, 61, and closing the gap with Christodoulides, 49.

Cypriots turned out in large numbers for an election centered on corruption and the economy, despite the island's long-standing division.

Christodoulides was considered the favorite even before polling stations opened.

"He is expected to win if he advances to the second round," said Andreas Theophanous of the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.

- Combating corruption

Voters appeared to be concerned about a cash-for-passports scandal and the strains of irregular migration on public resources, while the island's decades-old division remained unresolved.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish forces occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-sponsored coup.

"I expect the next president to address corruption and resolve the Cyprus issue," civil servant Andreas Georgiadis, 29, said after voting in Nicosia.

The centrist parties that support Christodoulides are tough on reunification talks, but his opponents are less so.

Mavroyiannis backer AKEL champions reconciliation with the Turkish Cypriots, and Neofytou is seen as a pragmatist and "dealmaker".

"We got more votes than in the previous general election," Neofytou told supporters after the results were announced.

Meanwhile, Mavroyiannis remained upbeat ahead of the run-off next Sunday.

"We met our objective... we are on the right track," he told supporters in Nicosia.

According to analysts, campaign promises to root out corruption and improve the economy are critical issues for the electorate.

"Corruption is at the heart of the debate, the economy, and everyday life. "The Cyprus issue is secondary," said Giorgos Kentas, an associate professor of international politics and governance at the University of Nicosia.

Despite having served in both Anastasiades administrations, Christodoulides appears to have avoided the taint of corruption.

"People know there is corruption; Christodoulides' explanation seems plausible to them - that he had no direct responsibility, and they believe that," Theophanous said.

'We're on autopilot,' says one.

Fotos After casting his ballot, Constantinou, a car dealership employee, spoke bluntly.

"We're on autopilot and have no idea where the plane is going," the 50-year-old explained. "We require a leader who considers households and the working class. Cyprus is not just about Cyprus."

Whoever is elected, according to Kentas, will need to "work hard to re-establish the country's credibility on the global stage."

Despite the fact that January inflation fell to 7.1 percent from 7.9 percent in December, high energy and food prices remain a source of concern.

"Regardless of who wins, the younger generation faces the challenge of low wages and high rents," Theophanous said.

The first round featured a record 14 candidates, but only two women.

Elam, an extreme right-wing party, came in fourth place, with their candidate, party leader Christos Christou, receiving 6% of the vote.

This puts Elam in the running for the next president, despite the fact that Mavroyiannis has previously dismissed any collaboration with extremists.

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