Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

Cyprus voters more focused on future than candidates

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TAGS: Elections, Cyprus

Cypriots head to the polls on Sunday with hopes that the president who will lead the country for the next five years will bring continued economic growth and fresh reunification efforts.

Even though the average voter appears to be very interested in the “day after,” as Kathimerini has observed in recent months, the two candidates in Sunday’s runoff – in speeches, interviews and a television debate on Wednesday – seem more focused on pointing fingers regarding the past rather than a vision or a plan about the future.

Cyprus’s pre-election period has been largely dominated by the past, by debates about the economic collapse of 2012 that led to a painful haircut on deposits in March 2013, and also by the collapse of United Nations-brokered peace talks at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana last July.

Public opinion polls and discussions with political analysts suggest that while incumbent conservative Nicos Anastasiades is still considered the front-runner to win, his lead over leftist-backed Stavros Malas is narrower than it appeared a few weeks ago.

However, the chances of his winning are still significant, based on the fact that in the first round last Sunday, Anastasiades outperformed Malas by 5 percentage points – with 35.5 percent against 30.3 percent – and the likelihood that he will also see gains from three categories of voters: those who did not vote in the first round, many of whom support Anastasiades’s Democratic Rally but had taken his outright victory for granted; far-right supporters, two-thirds of whom voted for the ultranationalist National Popular Front last Sunday and who will either abstain or vote for Anastasiades; and a section of the Democratic Party’s supporters who are opposed to its president, Nikolas Papadopoulos.

As positive as these signs may be, they are no reason for complacency in Anastasiades’s camp, which would do well to remember the lesson of George Vasiliou, who lost the second round of the 1993 elections to Glafcos Clerides after garnering 45 percent of the vote in the first.

They should also be wary of the so-called middle-ground voters who supported Papadopoulos in the first round despite opposition to his candidacy from within the party, and are now leaning toward Malas. Which way these voters ultimately swing may be decisive on Sunday.

The candidates

“If the people honor us with their vote, we will persevere with efforts to attract new investments with new incentives and tax breaks,” Anastasiades told Kathimerini.

“We took over an economy that was on the brink of a disorderly default and had a 6.5 percent negative growth rate, and have now achieved the highest rate of growth in Europe, in excess of 4 percent. We have reduced unemployment from 17 percent in 2013 to 10 percent, and see this dropping to a single digit soon. Cyprus had been shut out of the markets and when it did have access it was borrowing at a 15 percent interest rate. This has now fallen to 1.8 percent,” he added. “Cyprus has made leaps and will continue to do so if we prevent dangerous experiments and backpedaling.”

On the the island’s reunification, Anastasiades said he is “determined to continue talks on domestic aspects of the issue in the immediate future.”

“In order to prevent a repeat of Mont Pelerin, Geneva and Crans-Montana, we need more preparation before going into a conference,” he added. “If we do not know Turkey’s exact positions, especially when these are at odds with the [United Nations] general-secretary, then the talks will fail again.”

Malas is critical of Cyprus’s economic rebound, saying that “it will never stand on its feet if it continues to rely on bubbles – in finance and banking – on the ‘sale’ of [European Union] passports [in exchange for investments] – or on sectors that are vulnerable to outside factors.”

The leftist-backed candidate will seek “socially just solutions in the area of labor and in the huge ticking time-bomb of nonperforming loans.”

“We need to build a pioneering and viable welfare state,” he added.

Malas has also expressed fear that if the current stagnation in peace talks is allowed to continue, “Turkey – which came out of Crans-Montana appearing blameless for the breakdown in negotiations – will be free to deepen its occupation [of northern Cyprus] and intensify its colonization of half our country.”

The candidate said that, if elected, he will seek a meeting with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to jointly request that peace talks restart, while reaffirming Cyprus’s “ownership” of the process. “I will make it clear that I accept everything that has been agreed so far and the [UN Secretary-General Antonio] Guterres framework with the implementation mechanism, as this would ensure the abolition of the system of guarantees and intervention rights from day one of the solution.”

Last but not least, both candidates speak of an “overture” to other political parties and society as a whole, with Anastasiades referring to a government with a “broad consensus” and Malas to a government with “mass appeal.”

Turkey and the EEZ

One of the other key issues is that Cyprus’s elections are taking place against the backdrop of continued Turkish “moves” on the country’s exclusive economic zone and the next president will have to be responsible for continuing with its energy plans in cooperation with the companies carrying them out and the countries in which these are based, including the United States, France and Italy, among others.

In terms of the international community, foreign diplomats in Nicosia consider an Anastasiades win more likely, but stress the need, regardless of the outcome, for reunification talks to restart, particularly given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly unpredictable behavior.

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