Cypriots go to the polls

NICOSIA – Greek Cypriots go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president faced with the Herculean task of steering Cyprus through a UN-proposed settlement for the divided island before signing an EU accession treaty in April. The close two-horse race comes as ongoing reunification talks move ever closer to the UN-imposed February 28 deadline for an agreement and with EU accession around the corner. «As with most presidential elections, this campaign has been monopolized by one issue, the Annan plan,» – a reunification plan drawn up by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – political analyst Pambos Papageorgiou told AFP. Although 83-year-old incumbent Glafcos Clerides argues that a vote for anyone else would disrupt peace talks midstream, analysts believe there will be no drastic change. «There may be a technical disruption as the new government finds its feet, but there will be no shift in position… That would be very dangerous for the Greek Cypriots,» said Papageorgiou. Although there are 10 candidates, opinion polls point to a two-horse race. The key candidates fighting it out on Sunday will be the incumbent Clerides and main opposition rival Tassos Papadopoulos, 69, with Clerides’s aide, Attorney General Alecos Markides, 60, running a distant third. Center-right DIKO leader Papadopoulos, a prominent lawyer backed by the main opposition party, the communist AKEL, is the pollsters’ favorite to become the island’s fifth president in 43 years of independence from British rule. After a decade in power, Clerides, founder of the right-wing DISY party, decided to run for a truncated third term of 16 months – leading up to EU accession in May 2004 – on the premise that Cyprus is on the verge of «historic developments.» Although the two-time president trails by 12 percentage points, the polls indicate Clerides will fight it out with Papadopoulos in a runoff on February 23. The electorate numbers 476,000 from a total population of around 700,000, and voting is compulsory.