NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) â¿¿ Cypriots vote Sunday 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 ethnically divided country 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 Cyprus' outsize banking sector.
The financial woes have been compared to the economic catastrophe that befell the country in 1974, when a Turkish invasion following a coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece split the country into a breakaway Turkish-speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south.Sunday's 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 Dimitris Christofias, who is honoring a pledge not to seek a second five-year term if his negotiations with breakaway 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. Seen by some as a polarizing figure, Anastasiades has never enjoyed mass appeal, and his critics have made much of his support for a 2004 U.N.-backed reunification plan that Greek Cypriots rejected. But he has masterfully tapped into public discontent with the outgoing government's handling of the economy as well as events that led to a massive explosion of seized Iranian munitions in 2011 that killed 13 people and wrecked the country's main power station. He has a reputation for a hot temper. His nickname, 'tasakias' or 'ashtray,' was born from rumors he turned one into a projectile during a row at a party meeting. He denied the incident ever took place, but the nickname stuck.