Conservative Candidate Elected President in Cyprus

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NICOSIA, Cyprus -- The conservative presidential candidate won a landslide double-digit victory in Cyprus on Sunday ahead of crucial negotiations between the financially ailing nation and international lenders over a bailout.

The victor, Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative party Democratic Rally, won 57.5 percent of the vote in the runoff election. He defeated Stavros Malas, who is backed by AKEL, the Communist party, who won 42.5 percent.

Mr. Anastasiades told reporters that Cypriots had voted "in favor of stability, unity, credibility and change." He said that he was "determined to work together" with the nation's European Union partners and "steer the country out of economic crisis."

Cyprus is the latest euro-zone country to require a bailout. The nation's banks are in dire need of recapitalization, in part because they were so heavily invested in Greek sovereign bonds.

Mr. Anastasiades, 66, had said he would complete negotiations with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- known collectively as the troika. He comes from the same conservative bloc as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the European Union, and many here hope he can secure favorable terms.

Cyprus already signed a memorandum of understanding with the troika in November and has begun cutting government salaries and pensions and is raising its value-added tax. The economy contracted 2.3 percent last year and is expected to shrink by even more this year, according to the European Commission. Experts say the recession could last until 2015.

The voter turnout of 81.6 percent was low for a presidential election here, a sign of the pessimism and apathy that many voters, especially young voters, expressed going into the election. Turnout in the last runoff, five years ago, was 90.1 percent.

The financial rescue has been complicated by opposition from Germany, where the public is tired of helping indebted nations and where Cyprus has been portrayed as a money-laundering hub and a haven for Russian oligarchs stashing ill-gotten fortunes. Cypriots bristle at the portrayal and point to studies showing that the country has worked to comply with European Union money-laundering legislation.

Most analysts expect a deal to be reached ultimately because the cost of a bailout for Cyprus is lower than the cost of renewed turmoil and instability in the euro zone that a Cypriot bankruptcy might bring.

"Our common goal must remain the solution to the Cyprus problem and the pursuit of growth to the benefit of our people," Mr. Malas said in a concession speech on Sunday night. The Cyprus problem refers to the division of the island nearly four decades after the Turkish military invaded from the north, leaving a United Nations-patrolled buffer zone.

Mr. Anastasiades was one of the most prominent politicians to come out in favor of a plan to reunify the island proposed by Kofi Annan, then the United Nations secretary general. Turkish Cypriots in the north, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, voted in favor of the plan in a referendum in 2004. But the Greek part of the island, the Republic of Cyprus, rejected it.

The political future of the divided island -- long the central preoccupation here -- was not at the forefront of the election battle this year, which came down to economic issues. The departing president, Demetris Christofias, a Communist who has called himself the "red sheep of Europe," has been criticized here for agreeing to the Greek rescue without demanding special assistance for Cyprus's banks.

That legacy made it all the more difficult for Mr. Malas, backed by the same AKEL party, to chip away at the substantial lead Mr. Anastasiades built in the opinion polls.

Mr. Anastasiades's victory was announced in a crowded indoor arena packed with supporters on Sunday night. Supporters of Mr. Anastasiades honked their car horns, sounded noisemakers and waved Greek and Cypriot flags in downtown Nicosia, in a victory celebration more reminiscent of a sports championship than a win at the polls.

The head-to-head matchup followed a preliminary round last Sunday in which Mr. Anastasiades also enjoyed a strong lead but did not win the necessary 50 percent of the vote to prevent a runoff.

Andreas Riris contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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