By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — An exit poll by Cyprus’ state broadcaster showed Sunday that the country’s former foreign minister will advance to a Feb. 12 runoff for the presidency, although who his opponent will be remains too close to call.
According to the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation exit poll, Nikos Christodoulides garners between 30.5% to 33.5% to lead the two other frontrunners, who are virtually in a dead heat for second place.
Averof Neophytou, 61, the leader of Democratic Rally, the country’s largest political party, and career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, 66, were jockeying for second. Both garnered 26.5% to 29.5% of the vote, according to the exit poll, which showed a 1.5% margin of error for all three candidates.
Exit polls from at least three other private TV stations also showed Christodoulides making it into the runoff, and Neophytou and Mavroyiannis running neck-and-neck.
Results of the exit poll were released moments after Chief Returning Officer Costas Constantinou declared an end to the voting in the ethnically divided country. The winner will be Cyprus’ eighth new president in its 63-year history as an independent republic.
Some 561,000 citizens are eligible to vote.
Neophytou has banked on his message as a veteran insider and the steadiest hand to ensure stability in times fraught with economic uncertainty.
Mavroyiannis who served under outgoing President Nicos Anastasiades as his chief negotiator in peace talks with Turkish Cypriots, has appealed to voters disgruntled with a decade of Anastasiades’ rule, especially members of the communist-rooted AKEL party that’s supporting his candidacy.
Christodoulides has consistently led all opinion polls throughout the monthslong campaign, positioning himself as the candidate who can bridge party affiliations and ideological fault lines to unite a fractured electorate.
Voter Andreas Mashas said peace efforts with Turkish Cypriots and allegations of corruption hounding the outgoing government were among the factors that made up his mind on who he’d vote for.
“No candidate fully satisfies us, they’re all politicians, so you vote for the least worst one, that’s the way elections usually go, I consider my choice to be sufficiently good,” Mashas told The Associated Press, without revealing what his choice was.
Cypriots will expect the new president to quickly move to buttress an economy buffeted by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its knock-on effect on the cost of living.
Migration has also been a hot-button issue amid a continued massive influx of migrants that has made Cyprus one of the top EU countries in terms of asylum applications per capita.
Capitalizing on Cyprus’ offshore natural gas deposits amid an energy crunch and getting back to the negotiating table with breakaway Turkish Cypriots to resolve the island’s ethnic cleave are also priority issues.
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