Fourteen candidates formally joined the race on Thursday (5 January) to become Cyprus’s next president in an election next month dominated by the island’s decades-old division, irregular migration and corruption scandals.
Cyprus has a presidential system of government and the head of state has wide executive powers. At EU summits, Cyprus is represented by its President.
Opinion polls show Nikos Christodoulides, a former foreign minister, firmly in the lead to succeed to incumbent president Nikos Anastasiades. Barring a major upset, he will fall short of the 50% threshold in the first round on 5 February, leading to a runoff on 12 February.
“My candidacy seeks to unite the Cypriot people and not divide it,” Christodoulides, 49, told reporters after his nomination, pledging to form a broad-based administration if elected.
Christodoulides is well known to the Brussels press corps from the time he was the spokesperson of the Cypriot Presidency in the second half of 2012.
Cyprus, with 561,000 registered voters, is a small island with a big problem; it was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek inspired coup, and remains a key source of tension between NATO members Greece and Turkey.
All leading candidates in the election have pledged to push for a resumption of peace talks which collapsed in 2017.
Christodoulides’s backers, the centrist DIKO and the socialist EDEK party, have historically taken a harder line than other groupings.
As well as the island’s division, voters are concerned about a cash-for-passports scandal, in which thousands of wealthy foreigners acquired Cypriot citizenship, and about irregular migration, which has put a strain on public resources.
Recent revelations by journalist Makarios Drousiotis paint a grim picture of how a Russian oligarch pulls the strings in Cyprus.
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Christodoulides served in the right-wing administration of the ruling Democratic Rally (DISY) party until January 2022.
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DISY is fielding its own candidate, Averof Neophytou, who is about 10 points behind Christodoulides in polls. He is marginally ahead of Andreas Mavroyiannis, an independent backed by the left-wing AKEL party.
Mavroyannis too has held the post of deputy minister for European affairs in the administration of the former president Demetris Christofias.
Other candidates include Achilleas Demetriades, a lawyer who was instrumental in Cyprus changing its anti-gay laws at the European Court of Human Rights and achieving the first conviction of Turkey at the same court for violating the rights of a displaced Greek Cypriot.
(Edited by Georgi Gotev)