Last month, Anastasiades burnished his credentials with an endorsement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting of European center-right parties. If he wins, he would enjoy the advantage of having the backing of parliament where DISY and its ally, center-right DIKO, hold a slim majority.

"I ask from you a strong, clear mandate in order to immediately get to work covering lost ground, restoring our homeland's credibility and safeguarding our national interests within Europe's decision-making centers," Anastasiades told a campaign rally in the capital Nicosia this week.

Malas is a relative political newcomer who has carefully avoided being cast as heir to Christofias, who recently claimed that Cyprus was being persecuted by other eurozone countries. Instead, Malas has positioned himself as a candidate unburdened by a political past, and pledged to try to soften bailout terms to protect salaried workers. Even so, his support from AKEL with its perceived legacy of poor governance is seen as his main liability.

The overarching theme of businessman Lillikas' populist-driven campaign has been his pledge to immediately sell rights to a portion of Cyprus' new-found offshore natural gas deposits to pay the country's way out of the crisis and rid the country of bailout-mandated austerity measures within a year.

Lillikas has been dogged by the accusation of being an ambitious opportunist who climbed the political ladder on the back of parties he no longer supports and of being an ideological flip-flopper, swinging from a left-wing dove to rightist hardliner. Opinion polls, however, show he would fare better against Anastasiades in a runoff than Malas would.

Some 545,000 registered voters are eligible to cast their ballots for a total of 11 candidates.

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