Tuesday 18 September 2018

Re-elected Cypriot president pledges to push on with reunification attempts

Nicos Anastasiades received 56% of the vote, compared to 44% for Stavros Malas, in the final returns.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades waves to supporters who gathered at a stadium to attend his inauguration ceremony after being re-elected, in Nicosia (Petros Karadjias/AP)
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades waves to supporters who gathered at a stadium to attend his inauguration ceremony after being re-elected, in Nicosia (Petros Karadjias/AP)

By Menelaos Hadjicostis, Associated Press

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has vowed to push on with attempts to reunify the ethnically divided island nation and improve the economic fortunes of its people after he was re-elected by a wide margin.

Mr Anastasiades defeated left-leaning independent challenger Stavros Malas in a run-off election.

He received 56% of the vote, compared to 44% for Mr Malas, in the final returns.

Mr Malas telephoned Mr Anastasiades to concede defeat about an hour after polls closed, when half of the ballots had been counted and Mr Malas trailed badly.

Speaking to supporters, Mr Malas said he told Mr Anastasiades to “take care of our Cyprus”.

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Supporters of Nicos Anastasiades wave Greek flags as they attend his inauguration ceremony in Nicosia (Petros Karadjias/AP)

It is the second consecutive time that Mr Anastasiades, 71, a conservative veteran politician, won a head-to-head contest with Mr Malas, 50, for the presidency.

“Tomorrow, a new day, a new era dawns, where people demand co-operation from all of us,” Mr Anastasiades told throngs of jubilant supporters at his campaign headquarters.

Mr Malas campaigned as the candidate who would bring change to a tired political system that short-changes ordinary Cypriots, who have seen salaries and benefits slashed in the wake of the national economy’s near-meltdown.

But voters appeared to heed the incumbent’s campaign message, which blamed the left-wing economic policies of previous administrations for bringing Cyprus close to bankruptcy.

Mr Malas also struggled to separate himself from the party that supported him, the communist-rooted AKEL.

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Stavros Malas votes during the presidential elections in Nicosia (Philippos Christou/AP)

Mr Anastasiades accused AKEL of crushing the economy during the presidency of former leader Demetris Christofias.

“I know that the result has disappointed you, but we must respect it, and above all else for all of us to recognise that this was a worthy battle that neither begins nor ends with an election,” Mr Malas told his backers.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Only Turkey recognises a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

Voters remain sceptical about whether a reunification deal can be reached any time soon.

The latest round of talks at a Swiss resort in July collapsed amid finger-pointing about who was responsible for the failure.

To buoy public hopes, Mr Anastasiades said he would reach out to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to try and resuscitate their negotiations.

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Votes are being counted at a polling station in Ayioi Omologites primary school in Nicosia (Petros Karadjias/AP)

“I call on all Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to understand the current state of affairs can be a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he said.

mr Anastasiades repeated that he would seek a peace deal that does not include Turkey’s demands for a permanent troop presence and the right to intervene militarily in a federated Cyprus.

One of the president’s first orders of business will be to oversee ongoing exploratory drilling for gas off the island’s southern coast — an enterprise that could help the economy but also complicate efforts to heal Cyprus’ ethnic divide.

Italian energy company ENI is currently drilling an exploratory well and Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said indications of another find are “very encouraging”.

The hydrocarbon search undergirds alliances Cyprus has forged with Egypt and Israel, which have located their own sizeable offshore gas reserves.

The exploration has raised the ire of Turkey, which has characterised the work as an attempt to cheat Turkish Cypriots.

Results showed that 74% of eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday, slightly more than the first round of voting last week, but 7% less than in the 2013 election.

Mr Anastasiades has said a second term would be his last.

Press Association

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