Conservative favored in Cyprus presidential runoff
Nicosia (Cyprus): With Cypriots facing the specter of financial meltdown, the conservative candidate in a presidential election runoff was favored to beat his left-wing rival on Sunday.
Opposition leader Nicos Anastasiades garnered 45.46 per cent of the vote in the first round of voting, about 18 points more than Stavros Malas, who is backed by outgoing President Dimitris Christofias' communist-rooted AKEL party.
The candidate who gets the simple majority in the second round will win the race.
The new president will be under pressure to quickly finalise a financial rescue package with the eurozone's other 16 countries, and the International Monetary Fund to keep the country solvent as the economy shrinks and state coffers run dry.
He will face a tough battle convincing reluctant countries, especially Germany, that tiny Cyprus deserves help after its banks lost billions of euros on bad Greek debt.
Last year, Cyprus sought financial assistance of up to USD 22.7 billion, a sum roughly equivalent to its annual gross domestic product, which has raised concerns whether the country would be able to pay back any loan.
The country has been unable to borrow from international markets since mid-2011, and turned to long-time ally Russia last year for USD 3.3 billion loan to keep it afloat.
Cyprus, a divided island of around 1 million people in the far eastern end of the Mediterranean, is one of the smallest members of the 27-nation European Union and faces deep political and economic problems.
In 1974, it was split into an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Decades of talks on resolving that division so far have gone nowhere, and dealing with the financial crisis now takes priority.
Only the 545,000 eligible voters in the south can cast their ballots in the election.
The conservatives have capitalised on widespread discontent over what many view as five years of failed rule by Christofias.
An Anastasiades campaign billboard reading "Could you stand another five years of the same?" plays to that discontent.