Nicosia, Cyprus – Nicos Anastasiades has won a second five-year term as president of the Republic of Cyprus, official results have shown.
With all the votes counted, the incumbent conservative secured 56 percent on Sunday, comfortably ahead of his rival, Stavros Malas, a leftist-backed independent, at 44 percent.
Anastasiades, 71, is now expected to pick up the pieces of a suspended peace process on the ethnically split island, as well as oversee the economic recovery of a country still bouncing back from a crippling financial crisis.
“My dear friends, I want to thank you from the depths of my heart for the trust and the clear mandate,” Anastasiades told hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside his election campaign headquarters in the centre of the capital, Nicosia.
“A new era begins tomorrow,” he said from the building’s balcony. “People demand cooperation and unity because this is the only way to solve the problems we’re facing.”
Earlier on Sunday, Malas, 50, had called Anastasiades to congratulate him for his re-election.
“The people have spoken, and we respect their decision,” he said in a speech at his election campaign headquarters.
The result was in line with exit polls, which had put support for Anastasiades at an average of 57 percent, within a range of 54.5 percent to 59.5 percent.
Abstention stood at 26 percent.
‘Cause for optimism’
Backed by the right-wing Democratic Rally party, Anastasiades is a prominent figure in the Greek Cypriot political old guard.
His victory sparked scenes of celebration at his campaign headquarters, where jubilant supporters chanted slogans, blared horns and waved Cypriot, Greek and party flags.
“The result is a cause for optimism for the future,” Ioannis Hasikos, a 35-year-old lawyer, said.
“Over the past five years, the country achieved stability and people have decided to continue on the same path.”
Anastasiades ran a campaign emphasising the recovery of Cyprus’ economy from the state of near collapse it was in during the first days of his presidency, after taking over from the communist party AKEL in 2013.
In 2016, the country successfully exited a three-year international programme that saw it implementing tough economic measures in exchange for a multibillion-dollar bailout.
Under the terms of its contentious rescue programme, Nicosia agreed to shut down the island’s second-largest lender, Laiki, while Bank of Cyprus depositors were forced to forfeit nearly 50 percent of their savings that were over 100,000 euro ($124,000).
For his part, AKEL-backed Malas focused his campaign on the need for a new economic policy that would guarantee labour and social rights.
In a rare event for Cypriot politics, the parties whose candidates were knocked out in the January 28 first round did not endorse either finalist, but called on supporters to cast their ballots at will.
“Anastasiades secured a very clear mandate to govern the country for the next five years,” said political analyst Charalambos Chrisostomou.
“On the other hand, AKEL, despite the loss of the candidate it backed, appears to be turning the page after its poor performance in the 2016 parliamentary elections, when it had won 25 percent,” he added.
“It is also very interesting to see what will be the opposition strategy of the remaining parties that kept a common stance towards the two finalists.”
The runoff ballot was a repeat of the 2013 presidential election, which was won by Anastasiades with 57.48 percent of the vote.
Cyprus dispute, energy and economy
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops seized its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired Greek Cypriot coup seeking union with Greece.
Diplomatic efforts to unify the small Mediterranean island have failed repeatedly. The latest was in July 2017, when negotiations between Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, broke down in acrimony in the Swiss resort of Crans Montana.
Anastasiades, who backs a solution on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation between the island’s two main communities, has vowed to seek the resumption of UN-mediated peace talks, under certain conditions.
This potential revival of negotiations to end the long-running dispute will be one of the top three challenges faced by the new Anastasiades administration, according to Chrisostomou.
“The second will be overseeing Cyprus’ search for natural gas, and the way forward in its strategic cooperation with Egypt, Israel and Jordan in order to be able to take advantage of its reserves,” he said.
“The other major challenge is the economy, especially the high level of nonperforming loans, which is a time-ticking bomb,” added Chrisostomou.
“The president’s handling of this issue will certainly affect the state of the economy.”