Cyprus poll draws record 14 candidates, unlikely to produce clear winner
By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cypriots vote on Sunday in a presidential election which has split the political right and is unlikely to produce a clear winner, setting the stage for a runoff on Feb. 12.
Among a record 14 candidates, the race for the top job comes down to three hopefuls who were close aides of incumbent right-wing President Nicos Anastasiades, but are now bitter rivals.
The winner will need to resurrect moribund peace talks with estranged Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically split island, tackle spikes in irregular migration, and repair an image tarnished by a cash-for-passports scandal championed by the outgoing government before ditching it in 2020.
"Its been a very long pre-election period and I believe the real issues have been ignored... It's like they took a time-out for almost one-and-a-half years," said political analyst Andromachi Sophocleous.
Issues as diverse as breaking a deadlock in peace talks to the urgent need to upgrade the island's power grid - regulators have warned it is potentially unstable from the volume of renewables going into the system - have to be addressed, she said.
Sunday's vote pits Nikos Christodoulides, a former foreign minister in the administration who quit to mount a presidency bid, against the leader of his own political faction, Averof Neophytou, head of the governing right-wing Democratic Rally party (DISY).
Diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, the third candidate backed by opposition left-wing AKEL, was the government's chief negotiator in reunification talks with Turkish Cypriots.
Opinion polls say Christodoulides, 49, will sail through to the second round, leaving Neophytou and Mavroyiannis battling it out for second place on Feb. 12. Christodoulides is supported by roughly a third of DISY voters and has backing from centrist parties which are hardliners in reunification talks.
Anastasiades has reached the statutory limit of two consecutive terms and cannot seek re-election. Under his watch, Cyprus gave passports to thousands of rich foreigners in a system critics said was fundamentally flawed.
The programme was discontinued following repeated foreign media reports that beneficiaries included not only bona fide investors, but fraudsters and fugitives from justice.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Nick Macfie)