Cyprus votes for leader to steer it past financial storm

Sun Feb 17, 2013 5:53am EST
 

By Michele Kambas and Deepa Babington

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cypriots went to the polls on Sunday to elect a president who must negotiate a financial rescue to save the island country from a bankruptcy that would reignite the euro zone debt crisis.

The eastern Mediterranean nation's worst economic crisis in four decades eclipsed its almost four-decade-old partition as the main issue in this year's election, which conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades was tipped to win.

Polls showed Anastasiades, the most pro-bailout figure among the main presidential contenders, with a 15-point lead over his closest leftist rival, Stavros Malas that might even secure the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off a week later.

An air of despondency about the country's grim economic prospects hung over Greek Cypriots as they trickled to the polls. Results from over half a million votes expected to be cast were due by 1830 GMT.

Election officials reported a low morning turnout in mild late-winter sunshine. Most early voters were elderly, dressed in their Sunday best and heading to church mass.

"We don't want to sign a bailout immediately without looking at the terms and conditions; we want something tolerable," said Kyriakos Georgiou, a 73-year-old retired pharmacist. "We have an economic crisis but they can't be grabbing us by the throat."

Investors are keen to see Anastasiades, 66, a lawyer who has led the Democratic Rally party since 1997, clinch victory and get working on a bailout deal with lenders immediately.

He has pledged a quick agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund on a rescue, which investors want thrashed out before the island's woes derail progress made in shoring up the rest of the euro zone's periphery.   Continued...

 
Cyprus presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades of the right wing Democratic Rally party and his grandsons cast a ballot at a polling station in Limassol February 17, 2013. Cypriots went to the polls on Sunday to elect a president who will have to take responsibility for negotiating a financial rescue to save the small island nation from a bankruptcy that would reignite the euro zone debt crisis. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis