Over half a million voters are eligible to cast their ballots in Sunday's election in the Greek Cypriot-dominated south of the island for the legislative assembly's 56 seats. The reunification-dominated campaign ended at midnight on Friday.

 

It is the first election since Greek Cypriots rejected - and Turkish Cypriots backed - a UN peace plan in 2004 to reunify the island, fearing it would put their island under Turkey's political and military leadership.

Cyprus has been divided into a Greek-Cypriot controlled south and a Turkish occupied north since Turkey's invasion in 1974 in response to an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.

 

Cypriot voters are expected to show strong support for strong opposition by Tassos Papadopoulos, the president, to the UN's reunification plan for the Mediterranean island.

 

Change of heart

The current elections will hardly demonstrate a change of heart by the 500,000-strong electorate, according to analysts.

 

"Certainly it will vindicate the approach taken by President Papadopoulos on the UN plan," political analyst Tim Potier said.

 

Opinion polls have consistently shown Papadopoulos's centrist DIKO party - whose message throughout the campaign has been to buttress the president with ballots cast for the party - is set to increase its share of seats.

 

EU has called for an end to the
isolation of northern Cyprus

The same polls have also shown the nascent European Party, which  ran on an anti-UN plan platform, will gain at least two seats by attracting traditional DISY (Democratic Rally of Cyprus) backers  embittered over the right-wing party's support for the proposals to end three decades of division.

 

The election will also offer a Turkish-Cypriot woman, Neshe Yashin, an unprecedented chance to win a seat. She is running with the centrist United Democrats in Nicosia.

 

Renewed mandate

That bodes well for Papadopoulos, who would then head into presidential elections in two years' time confident of clinching a second five-year term and a renewed mandate for his get-tough approach on future efforts to reunify the divided island.

 

The Greek Cypriot leader insists he is ready for new reunification talks after the election and both Washington and UN chief Kofi Annan have registered their support for a fresh peace push.

 

Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, on Friday urged the international community to "end the isolation of the northern Cyprus community" and use a "certain window of opportunity" provided by the election to help relaunch peace talks.

 

But deeply split over the UN plan, communist AKEL - an ardent reunification advocate - appears to be the most vulnerable to  disenchanted supporters possibly opting to cast a protest ballot.

 

 "If I was in AKEL, I would be most anxious because it's more likely the party's support would move downwards," said Potier.

 

Undecided voters

An estimated 8% of voters have told pollsters they remain undecided ahead of the parliamentary polls, which are held every five years.

 

Although weakened, AKEL and DISY seem set to retain their traditional dominance in the 56-seat legislature, as observers foresee no major change in their support numbers. A state television poll predicted a one-two finish with 29% and 27.6% respectively.

 

For the first time in more than four decades, 270 of the island's minority Turkish Cypriots are allowed to vote in the election.