Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Cyprus elects its new president

Three associates of the outgoing president run for the highest office in the country

The thirteenth presidential election in Cyprus will take place on Sunday. The second round of the presidential elections will follow a week later, on February 12, 2023, if none of the candidates in the first round receive over 50% of the vote.

A total of 14 candidates are running for office. There are more candidates than ever before in the history of the Republic of Cyprus. The polls will be open for over 500,000 Cypriot nationals. Polling places will also be set up both in the Republic of Cyprus and in several locations abroad where Cypriot citizens reside.

The president of the Republic of Cyprus is directly chosen by the people for a five-year term, as stated in the Constitution of 1960. The president-elect starts his/her tenure in office after a special ceremony in the House of Representatives.

In the Republic of Cyprus, presidential elections are held before the sitting president's term ends. During the president’s tenure, if he or she cannot temporarily carry out their duties, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives takes the position of President of the Republic under amendments made to the Cypriot constitution after 1963.

According to the constitution, the Turkish Cypriot vice-president was chosen by the Turkish Cypriots in a separate election. The first and only Turkish Cypriot vice-president in the history of the island served from December 1959 until December 1963. The position of the vice-president remained vacant when Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the Republic in the last weeks of 1963.

Anastasiades's legacy

Nicos Anastasiades, former leader of the Democratic Rally Party (DISY) which is the largest party of the Greek Cypriot right, was elected President of the Republic of Cyprus a decade ago amidst the shadow of an unprecedented energy and financial crisis in Cypriot history. Since the last few weeks of 1963, when Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the island's government in response to an attempt to amend the constitution, the Republic has been governed by Greek Cypriots.

Besides leaving his mark on Greek Cypriot politics over the past ten years, Anastasiades, the sole political figurehead who supported the 2004 Annan unification plan, has endorsed several ambitious politicians and diplomats currently vying for the presidency. Anastasiades' neoliberal political line dominates the Greek Cypriot political scene. His government’s positive achievements are often attributed to him personally, whilst at the same time the Greek Cypriot left fails to offer a viable alternative to his authority.

According to the most recent polls, one of Anastasiades' close collaborators will be chosen to serve as president for the next five years. The impressive work that Anastasiades left behind benefits his former colleagues and prospective successors. The island went through an unparalleled energy and financial crisis which was exacerbated by the deadly explosion at the Mari base, where ammunition originally intended for Syria was kept. During his first term in office, Anastasiades dealt with the crisis by reaching agreements with creditors, closing the nation's second-largest bank, "haircutting" bank deposits, and dissolving venerable organizations like Cyprus Airlines and the Cyprus Cooperative Bank. Along with these initiatives, the Anastasiades government kept the Cypriot economy in a relatively better position than other European economies that have also been severely damaged, such as the Greek economy. He achieved this by relying on tourism, luring foreign investment to the nation's real estate market, and employing strategies like the citizenship-for-money program between 2013 and 2023. Additionally, the Anastasiades administration launched the General Health System (GESY) during its second term.

Although Anastasiades managed to keep the Cypriot economy afloat with his reforms, this came with a heavy political and social price for Cyprus. Corruption went hand in hand with the island's tourism-based economic expansion and the draw of international investment. Anastasiades' flirting with nationalist groups also raised questions about the country's democratic leanings and the future of the Cyprus issue, which remained unresolved for the entire decade that Anastasiades was in power.

The contenders for the presidency

Three of Anastasiades's close associates could soon succeed him as President of the Republic of Cyprus, according to recent polls. Nikos Christodoulides, a former foreign minister, had a commanding lead of nearly five points in the race. Averof Neofytou, the leader of the DISY, and Andreas Mavrogiannis, Anastasiades' former negotiator in the Cyprus talks, are the next-in-line candidates. Before Sunday's elections, the former foreign minister's percentage had stabilized in the 30 percent range. Neofytou's task is challenging because DISY's supporters are split between Neofytou and Christodoulides, and the largest center-right party has recently lost support. The Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), traditionally the leftist Cypriot party, is backing the candidacy of Mavrogiannis. Both Mavrogiannis and Neofytou who receive between 24 to 25% of the votes according to the exit polls are hoping to be the one to pass to the second round of presidential elections. The far-right National Popular Front (ELAM) leader Christos Christou, the lawyer Achilleas Demetriades, the centrist politician Giorgos Kolokasides, the academic Constantinos Christofides, and other candidates are also in the running for president.

In the presidential election on February 5, the top two finishers will advance to the second round on February 12. Based on the most recent data, no contender is anticipated to win over 50% of the first round's votes. As a result, it is expected that the candidate who received the most votes in the second round will be chosen as the new president.

According to their electoral manifestos and remarks, if elected, Christodoulides, Neofytou, and Mavrogiannis will essentially continue the course set by their predecessor Anastasiades. Their top priorities are securing the future of GESY and the economic development of the island via the tourism sector and the luring of foreign capitals into the real estate market. Additionally, the contenders could adopt some of the socioeconomic initiatives that are being carried out by center-right governments around Europe. While Averof Neofytou of DISY may decide to stick with the option of a one-party government, Christodoulides and Mavrogiannis may choose to execute these plans in some sort of coalition government. The election favorites have supported a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal solution to the Cyprus Issue. All candidates agree negotiations should begin from where they ended in 2017 and proceed on this premise. If Christodoulides, Neofytou, or Mavrogiannis are successful, one may anticipate a pro-US and pro-Western stance on the part of Cyprus and new alliances with Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia will stay on the agenda. This multifaceted regional collaboration will continue to center on energy and defense.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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