Former foreign minister wins narrow Cypriot presidential election

Former Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides has won Sunday’s presidential runoff election with promises to revive stalled reunification talks with Turkish Cyprus.

Christodoulides secured 51.9 per cent of the vote, beating veteran diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis by just 15,041 votes.

Christodoulides, 49, was previously Cyprus’ UN ambassador, promised changes after a decade under President Nicos Anastasiades.

He ran as an independent but was supported by the leftist AKEL, Cyprus’ second-largest political party, which may have swung the narrow vote. Christodoulides was backed by groups that take a hostile stance on talks to reunify Cyprus.

Mavroyiannis, 66, was Anastasiades’ chief negotiator in unsuccessful talks with Turkish Cyprus.

Some voters fear any governmental role for AKEL threatens the republic’s fragile economy and pro-western orientation.

AKEL was blamed for bringing Cyprus, the EU’s most easterly state, to the brink of bankruptcy around a decade ago and is seen by some as pro-Kremlin.

“Today Greek Cypriots have voted in a government with very nationalist tendencies,” said Cleopatra Kittin of the Athens-based think-tank Eliamep. “It is unlikely to back a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation any time soon which means this is likely to be another wasted opportunity.”

Christodoulides tried to reassure voters, saying: “Our country’s European, western orientation is our steady compass for tomorrow.”

Turkey, the only country to recognise the Turkish Cypriot enclave as a state, has abandoned UN-backed proposals for a federal Cyprus. Ankara now says it wants a two-state deal which Cyprus and its western allies have rejected.

The election came a week after Christodoulides led in the first round of voting that included Averof Neofytou, the leader of the centre-right DISY, which has been in power for a decade.

It was the first time DISY, Cyprus’ biggest political party, failed to reach a runoff. The defeat has been blamed on Christodoulides, who was seen as dividing the party vote by defying orders to announce his candidacy.

DISY leaders spoke about backing Mavroyiannis, the party’s refusal to formally endorse either candidate caused confusion among supporters.

Cyprus has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since the 1974 Turkish invasion. The dividing line is still called the Green Line because a British officer used a green pencil to mark the extent of the Turkish incursion. The Turkish troops were deployed after a coup plotted in Athens hoped to unite Cyprus with Greece.

Nikos Christodoulides visits Austria as foreign minister. Picture credit: Flickr

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