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Cypriots are poised to vote for a new president this Sunday. The incumbent Demetris Christofias is not running. He will leave office with Cyprus on the verge of bankruptcy. Whoever replaces him will have to seek emergency loans to refloat its banks. Economic uncertainty has even knocked the four-decade reunification negotiations for the island off the top of the agenda. In the capital Nicosia, the mood is not optimistic.
One middle-aged resident said: “You see stores closing down all the time, there are no jobs and people are in serious economic trouble.”
A young woman said: “We’ve got less money and more expenses. I want to leave, go find a job, outside Cyprus if necessary.”
We heard from a downtown businesswoman: “I’ve owned this store for 25 years. This year and the last couple of years business has gone from bad to worse. People are afraid to go shopping, even if they still have money. They are scared of what might happen to them tomorrow.”
Of the eleven candidates for the presidency, the three front runners know how critical a time it is. Last year Cyprus became the fifth euro zone country to seek a bailout. That guarantees increasingly strict austerity for the islanders.
Candidate Nicos Anastasiades told us: “We need to make the state more efficient – not necessarily by firing public sector employees, but we must follow the principle of a balanced budget. As for the Civil Service, we will set up a quota: for every four who retire, hire a new one.”
Candidate Stavros Malas said: “No one has the right to reduce the welfare state, and if privatisation is used only to finance the deficit, economically that’s useless to us.”
There are 535,000 voters. The presidential term is for five years. Once a new president is in, talks on a rescue are expected to come to a head.
Candidate Giorgos Lilikas told us: “I intent to use the natural gas resources to satisfy the needs of the Republic of Cyprus with regard to the debt of the Banks and the fiscal deficit. This way I will put the economy of Cyprus back on track.”
Our correspondent said: “Whoever the winner is, the new resident of Nicosia’s Presidential Palace will have to find solutions for crucial matters that will determine the course of the country in the years to come.”