NICOSIA: Rightwing leader Nicos Anastasiades won yesterday’s presidential election with 51 percent of the vote, taking the helm in efforts to secure a bailout for recession-hit EU member Cyprus, according to exit polls.
The polls on state television showed 66-year-old Disy party head Anastasiades won 51.1 percent, fending off Stavros Malas, 45, backed by the AKEL communist party, who won 27.3, eliminating the need for a second round.
Setting off chanting, honking of car horns and flying of party flags by Disy supporters, the exit polls — with a margin of error of 1.5 percent — showed former foreign minister George Lillikas coming in third with 18 percent.
However, political analyst Yiannis Mavris remained cautious, 90 minutes after the polls closed. “Official results coming through are not reflecting the exit polls with Malas and Lillikas fighting for a place in the second round,” which would take place on February 24 if no candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold, he said.
But with Anastasiades’s first place finish not in doubt, his spokesman Tassos Mitsopoulos told reporters: “The Cypriot people have decided to turn the page — that message is clear. We will wait for the results.”
Election officials put turnout at 83 percent, down six percent on last presidential vote in 2008.
The election was seen as one of the most crucial since independence, with Greek Cypriots voting for a new president to rescue the recession-hit EU member state from bankruptcy.
Anastasiades also had the backing of centre-right Diko party in the race for the presidency, which unlike in previous polls on the normally affluent but divided island focused on the economy rather than reunification efforts.
Polling for the 550,000 electorate started at 7am and closed at 6pm. Anastasiades is seen as someone the Europe Union can do business with, while his stance on ending the four-decade division between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is more flexible than his rivals.