Cypriot candidates woo kingmaker for election run-off

Sun Feb 17, 2013 6:43pm EST
 
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By Michele Kambas and Deepa Babington

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cypriot political leaders begin a week of bargaining on Monday after the first round of a presidential election failed to produce an outright winner to steer the island nation through its worst financial crisis in four decades.

Conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades, who backs a swift deal with EU and IMF lenders on a bailout to avert a Cypriot bankruptcy, won Sunday's vote but fell short of the absolute majority needed to avoid a run-off on Feb 24. He faces Communist-backed Stavros Malas in that round.

Any financial crash in Cyprus could reignite the euro zone debt crisis just as confidence slowly returns to the bloc.

Complicating matters for investors, 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," 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 percent of the vote and trailing 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, Anastasiades secured 45.4 percent and remains the favorite to clinch a victory next Sunday.   Continued...

 
Cyprus presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades (C) of the right wing Democratic Rally party casts his ballot as his wife Andriana and his grandchildren look on at a polling station in Limassol February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis