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Cyprus votes for president as clock ticks on bailout deal
UPDATED: CYPRIOTS are voting today for a new president who will have to swiftly negotiate a bailout agreement that will bring the country back from the brink of bankruptcy but not without the pain of austerity.
It is the second time in one week in which voters go to the polls, as no candidate managed to secure the required majority of over 50 per cent last Sunday.
The choice will be between DISY leader Nicos Anastasiades, who gathered 45.46 per cent of the vote in the first round against 26.91 per cent for his opponent, AKEL-backed Stavros Malas.
Anastasiades said Cypriots had two choices.
“One is to remain and continue with the current administration and the dead ends we face and the other is the choice of a new era,” he said after casting his vote in Limassol. “Today is a defining day, and as I said, people are choosing our country’s course and fortune.”
Financial markets are hoping for an Anastasiades victory to speed up a joint rescue by the European Union and International Monetary Fund before the island runs out of cash and derails fragile confidence returning to the euro zone
Malas said people today were delivering their final verdict, writing a new chapter in the history of the Republic.
“Today, our country’s interest is set above any personal interests,” Malas said. “We are deciding if we want policies that will help our country resist, hold on, and maintain social coherence.”
Whoever wins will have the difficult task of negotiating a bailout agreement with international lenders in time to provide the cash-starved state a lifeline.
"We have to choose between the lesser of two evils," said Georgia Xenophondos, a 23-year-old receptionist who voted for a third contender (Giorgos Lillikas) in the first round. She now plans to vote for the conservative chief, but is wary of backing more austerity.
"We are already damaged by it and I don't know if we can take anymore," she said. "We've hit poverty, unemployment and lost respect from the EU - things we didn't see five years ago."
Fewer voters were expected to show up at the polls than last Sunday after Lillikas refused to back either contender in the runoff, boosting Anastasiades's chances.
About a half million Cypriots are eligible to vote but many are expected to abstain or cast blank votes in protest. Both contenders have implored Cypriots not to shirk their duty.
By 12pm, the turnout was 36.9 per cent compared with 38.9 per cent last Sunday.
"Whatever happens in this vote, the day after is going to be very difficult for Cyprus," said Demetris Charalambous, a 56-year-old convenience store owner. "People are really depressed."