Cyprus’s tight three-way race

NICOSIA (ANA) – The election campaign on the divided island of Cyprus is entering the final stretch, as Greek Cypriots prepare to go to the polls on Sunday in what is expected to be a tight battle between the three main presidential candidates, according to the latest polls. Poll analysts say that the electorate is evenly split three ways, a first, which makes prediction almost impossible. However, data published on Monday, the final day of polling, showed Euro MP Ioannis Kassoulides of the Democratic Rally of Cyprus (DISY) bypassing by 0.1-0.3 percent Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) leader Dimitris Christofias to come in second behind incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos of the Democratic Party (DIKO). Analysts credit this slight rise in popularity to the increased dynamic of Kassoulides’s campaign in recent days. With the polls clearly predicting that no candidate will win outright in Sunday’s vote and that in all likelihood the election will go into second-round runoffs between the two front-runners the following weekend, the candidates’ staff are focusing their campaign efforts on the final push this week. Papadopoulos’s campaign, which aims at hanging onto its percentage of votes from people who traditionally support rival parties, is focused on what are perceived as the electorate’s three greatest «fears»: A fear of a revival of the Annan Plan for Cyprus, the fear of AKEL supporters that the «right» may come back into power via DISY, and the fear of DISY supporters for the communist party AKEL. Papadopoulos has suggested that the two rival parties have reached an agreement for an «historical compromise» should their candidate not make it into the runoffs. On the island’s division, the foremost issue expected to dominate the electoral campaign, Papadopoulos emerges as the most likely candidate to handle the «no» vote from the 2004 referendum on the Annan Plan and to promote the July 8, 2006, agreement that foresees confidence-building measures between Nicosia and the breakaway state in the north of Cyprus. Kassoulides’s and Christofias’s staff counter that Papadopoulos is alone in saying that the Annan Plan is still on the table, when even the United Nations itself has all but rejected it, and are instead opting to support bilateral negotiations. Christofias’s staff categorically denies any deals between AKEL and DISY and insists that if Christofias is elected president, he will be forming a government of personalities from every part of the political spectrum. What his staff is trying to do is to bring back into the AKEL fold that 10 percent of its supporters who are now rooting for Papadopoulos, mainly because it was AKEL that abandoned the three-party coalition. On the political front, Christofias’s camp accuses Papadopoulos of failing to take any decisive initiative to break the logjam in reunification talks and for failing to fulfill his pre-election commitments. It also accuses him of not fostering close enough ties with the United Nations and the international community at large. On Kassoulides’s front, the campaign is also focusing on regaining DISY’s 10 percent that have opted to support Papadopoulos this time around. This group mostly comprises a portion of voters who rejected the Annan Plan in 2004, while a portion takes an anti-communist stance. DISY President Nikos Anastasiadis as well as other high-ranking members of the party are confident that their voters will be brought back into the fold in time for the crucial elections on Sunday. One of the greatest advantages enjoyed by Kassoulides is votes from abroad, especially from students who have shown a clear preference for DISY over the other two parties. This bloc of voters has not been accounted for in any polls so far, though it is estimated that thousands of Greek Cypriots living abroad, who make up 3 percent of the total electorate, will be coming to Cyprus on Sunday to vote, and that approximately half of them will be casting their ballot for Kassoulides. In his election campaign, Kassoulides has blamed Papadopoulos for policy decisions he has made in the past and Christofias for supporting him during their coalition. Kassoulides presents himself as a modern politician, with strong ties in Europe and a clean political record, and as the most capable candidate to bring something new to reunification talks. The three presidential candidates are set to face their biggest test tomorrow during a live television debate.