By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA -Former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides took the lead in Cyprus’s presidential election on Sunday and will face off against leftist-backed candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis in a runoff on Feb. 12.
Christodoulides, running as an independent, took 32% of the vote, with career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, backed by the left-wing AKEL party and generally considered an outsider by opinion polls, presenting the surprise at 29.6%.
Mavroyiannis’s showing defied opinion polls which had shown he would likely trail in third place and would be left out of the runoff. But he had the backing of AKEL, a well-organised party which had cranked up the rallying of its supporters in the past month.
“It comes down to Mavroyiannis having the full backing of a party and that Averof (Neophytou) probably didn’t,” said analyst Fiona Mullen of Sapienta Economics, referring to third-placed Averof Neophytou, leader of the ruling right-wing DISY party. “Its an extraordinary result,” she added.
Neophytou had been publicly endorsed by incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades, who by law cannot seek a second five-year term, but his candidacy was overshadowed by Christodoulides, a party member who broke ranks with DISY to run.
Opinion polls had shown Christodoulides gaining roughly one-third of the DISY votes.
The two frontrunners from Sunday’s vote will now have a week to win over voters, after which the victor will have to wrestle with how to break a deadlock in reunification talks on ethnically split Cyprus, as well as with irregular migration, labour disputes, and repairing the country’s image tarnished by corruption scandals.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2017.