Greek Cypriots head to polls

Greek Cypriots will vote on Feb. 17 for a new president to guide them through a severe economic crisis as their country becomes the latest financially troubled European nation seeking international rescue money.

For the first time in 40 years, the crisis has eclipsed efforts to reunify the divided island as the predominant pre-election issue. A shrinking economy, nearly 15 percent unemployment and salary cuts and tax increases demanded under a preliminary bailout deal with eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund have cracked a veneer of prosperity partly built on Greek Cyprus’ outsize banking sector.

The vote will take place only in the southern part of the country, which is the part needing a bailout. The winner will succeed deeply unpopular communist-rooted Demetris Christofias, who is honoring a pledge not to seek a second five-year term if his negotiations with Turkish Cypriots to reunify the country failed.

Opinion polls show Nicos Anastasiades, the 66-year-old head of the right-wing main opposition Democratic Rally (DISY) party, as the frontrunner.

Polls show Anastasiades well ahead of main opponents Stavros Malas, 45, a former health minister in Christofias’ government who is backed by communist-rooted AKEL party, and independent Giorgos Lillikas, 52, a former foreign minister under the late President Tassos Papadopoulos. If no one gets more than half of the votes, the top two candidates go to a runoff a week later, a scenario polls suggest is likely.

Some 545,000 registered voters are eligible to cast their ballots for a total of 11 candidates.

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