NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The three front-runners vying for the presidency of ethnically split Cyprus wound down their campaigns Friday, putting pronouncements of their leadership credentials ahead of issues two days before the election.
Opinion polls indicate that none of the three, who are all close associates of outgoing President Nicos Anastasiades, will muster more than half of the vote — the bar for an outright win in Sunday's voting.
The top two finishers will likely face each other in a runoff election a week later. Some 561,000 citizens are eligible to vote.
Averof Neophytou, 61, who took over the leadership of the country’s Democratic Rally party from Anastasiades, doubled down on his "safe choice" campaign theme, portraying himself as a steady hand with a surfeit of experience who can get things done.
“I’ve also understood that those who profess to usher in change will only manage to usher in chaos,” Neophytou told supporters during his final rally Thursday. “This is no time for experiments or mistakes.”
Career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, who served as Anastasiades' chief negotiator in peace talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots, sharpened his message for voters who may be disgruntled after a decade of the outgoing president’s leadership. The communist-rooted AKEL party is supporting Mavroyiannis' candidacy.
“In this election, there are three front-runners but two choices – the continuation of this government or progressive change,” Mavroyiannis told his supporters. “Change is in your hands.”
Nikos Christodoulides, 49, a former government spokesperson and foreign minister, is running as an independent. Throughout the monthslong campaign, he hammered home the message that he’d be the president for all Cypriots irrespective of ideology or party affiliation.
“I have the experience and the knowledge, I have the relationships and above all else, I have the vision to see my country free and reunified,” he said at his final campaign rally.
Opinion polls have consistently put Christodoulides in the lead, with Mavroyiannis and Neophytou battling it out for the runoff spot.
Voters will expect the new president to quickly move to buttress an economy buffeted by Russia’s war in Ukraine as high inflation cuts deeply into the take-home pay of Cypriots.
Migration has also been a hot-button issue amid a continued influx of migrants that has made Cyprus one of the top European Union countries in terms of asylum applications per capita.
Capitalizing on Cyprus’ offshore natural gas deposits amid an energy crunch is another priority issue, as is getting back to the negotiating table with Turkish Cypriots to resolve the ethnic cleave that took place on the island in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.