Their country’s future as a eurozone member hanging in the balance, Cypriots voted on Sunday to elect a new president, with the pro-bailout conservative leader, Nicos Anastasiades, securing the biggest backing with 45.4% of the vote. Anastasiades is set to face a runoff next week after failing to gain enough support for an outright win. However, he is seen as the overwhelming favourite in that contest, against the communist-backed independent, Stavros Malas, who took 26.9% of the vote. The vote for Anastasiades and his DISY party is an endorsement of the pro-bailout policies advocated by a man who will face the arduous task of finalising a €17bn (£14.6bn) rescue package with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to keep the country’s economy afloat. Last year Cyprus became the fifth eurozone state to ask for a bailout.
On Sunday 545,000 citizens filed into polling stations to cast ballots in what was seen as the country’s most crucial election in recent times. “Whoever wins will preside over five very difficult years, first negotiating a rescue programme then possibly having to enforce new austerity measures,” said Hubert Faustmann, associate professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia.
No Cypriot election had been as closely watched by the international community. The divided island’s economic difficulties – triggered by losses its banking system suffered when Greece restructured its debt – have spurred concerns of a re-eruption of the eurozone crisis just when many had hoped progress in the bloc’s fragile periphery had been achieved.
Brussels had not hidden its hope that Anastasiades would win. An advocate of neo-liberal policies who believes in breaking the power of trade unions, the 66-year-old lawyer has promised to reach a speedy agreement with would-be creditors at the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank.
“Above all else, we must unite forces to counter this economic crisis which unfortunately our homeland has never experienced before,” he said after casting his ballot.