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‘It’s in the hands of the voters now’
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.
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.
Anastasiades told Reuters in an interview that various parties, including "governments and funds" which he did not identify, had been "sounded out" for a short-term loan to keep Cyprus going until the bailout. "This would be in order to complete the (bailout) loan agreement with some comfort, without the threat or the fear of collapse," Anastasiades said.
The 66-year-old lawyer declined to say whom he had contacted. It was the first time a presidential candidate in Cyprus has disclosed talks to secure a loan ahead of a bailout rescue - talks which have dragged on for eight months.
Malas, who is pro-bailout but anti-austerity, has been trying this week to woo the people who voted for Giorgos Lillikas, who came third with 25 per cent of the vote last Sunday.
Malas has promised to include the forces who back him in a coalition government, but publicly at least, both Lillikas, and his backers EDEK, chose to sit on the fence during the runoff vote.
Campaigning ended on Friday night with a televised debate between the two contenders mostly focusing, as the rest of the long election campaign, on the economy.
It was the first time after the 1974 Turkish invasion that something other than the island’s political problem was the focus of a presidential election campaign.
On Friday, the European Commission slashed its economic outlook for Cyprus, doubling its recession forecast.
“Projections of the economic outlook for 2013 and 2014 point to a prolonged recession, due to further declines in domestic demand and investment activity,” the Commission said.
The island will see its €17.9 billion economy contract by 3.5 per cent this year, the Commission said in its winter economic forecast. The previous autumn forecast released in November had output contracting by 1.7 per cent in 2013.
The economy was expected to contract by a further 1.3 per cent in 2014.
The two candidates spent the day yesterday relaxing in Limassol, ahead of the big day today.
Anastasiades visited volunteers who worked on his campaign and he also said he went to see his 89-year-old mother who wished him all the best.
“The people will decide tomorrow and the people will have the right to judge the person they elected with as much strictness as they saw fit,” the DISY leader said.
Malas, who strolled around the port city’s shops, said he was waiting for the people’s decision.
“We will wait for the people’s judgment. We said what we had to say and now the people will have to think and decide freely,” Malas said.
The 1,139 polling stations will open at 7am and are scheduled to close at 6pm with a one-hour lunch break between 12pm and 1pm.
The results are expected to be known by 7pm and the declaration of the new president taking place at 10pm at the Eleftheria stadium.
Authorities said only 8,000 people will be allowed in the stadium. Large televisions screens have been placed outside for those who will not make it in.