Pro-bailout candidate leads in Cyprus
Cyprus presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades of the right wing Democratic Rally party makes statements at the party's polling station in Nicosia. Photograph: Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters
The Cypriot politician most in favour of an international bailout was in pole position to win next Sunday's run-off presidential vote as he and his communist-backed rival launched a week of bargaining to woo voters suspicious of a rescue package to stave off bankruptcy.
Conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades, who backs a swift deal with the European Union and International Monetary Fund on a bailout to fight the worst recession in four decades, faces off with Stavros Malas in a second-round vote on February 24th after neither won a clear victory in the first round last Sunday.
Markets are looking at the Mediterranean island with growing concern, fearing that its possible bankruptcy could reignite the euro zone debt crisis just as confidence slowly returns.
Most Cypriot newspapers speculated it was a foregone conclusion that Mr Anastasiades, with a comfortable 18.5 per cent margin over Mr Malas, would win next Sunday's race. "The coronation was postponed," the Phileleftheros daily said in a headline.
Both leading candidates must court voters who backed runner-up George Lillikas, an independent deeply suspicious of terms for any bailout - which he says may keep Cyprus in perpetual bondage to foreign lenders. "Our country is at a crucial juncture," Mr Lillikas told his supporters, refusing to disclose which candidate he will back.
"We will support policies which defend the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, and every policy which defends our national interests and is resistant to the will of foreigners."
The anti-austerity campaigner turned in a surprisingly strong performance in Sunday's election, taking 25 per cent of the vote and trailing Mr Malas, who campaigned on a pro-bailout but anti-austerity platform, by just 2 points.
A lawyer who has led the Democratic Rally party since 1997, Mr Anastasiades secured 45.4 per cent.
"I will reach out to political leaders, seeking to broaden the public mandate we have even more," Mr Anastasiades told cheering supporters after the first round. "(It is a mandate) to get rid of a leadership which led us to food rationing, unemployment and misery."