The three main candidates in the Cypriot presidential election all turned out to vote on Sunday morning, as people go to the polls for the first round.
Opinion polls giving conservative Nicos Anastasiades a commanding lead. He is 15 to 20 points ahead of his left wing rival, Stavros Malas, an independent candidate but who is backed by the ruling communists.
The 66-year-old Anastasiades is promising a quick agreement on an international bailout at a time when the country’s perilous economic situation is casting a new shadow over the eurozone.
The outgoing President Christofias has sought a bailout worth 17.5 billion euros – the value of the whole economy.
Giorgos Lillikas, who has socialist support, is running neck and neck with Malas in the race to join a likely presidential run-off next week. He opposes a loan, arguing it would make the recession worse.
One voter said: “People expect a bailout from this election due to the difficult situation we are in: to return to economic development and hopefully find a viable solution to the political issue of the division of the island.”
For the electorate of half a million, the threat of national bankruptcy has blown away the Greek-Turkish divide as the main issue.
Cypriots have seen unemployment soar to 15 per cent as they have endured cuts to pay and benefits as well as tax hikes to prepare for a bailout.
Euronews correspondent in Nicosia, Stamatis Giannisis, said:
“Whoever is elected President, the first major challenge he is confronted with will be to convince EU partners that Cyprus will honour every commitment undertaken in exchange for a bailout. But he will also need to persuade the Cypriot people that their economic sacrifices will not be wasted.”