By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA (Reuters) – Former Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides was elected president on Sunday in a runoff vote, promising a unity government tasked with breaking a deadlock in peace talks with estranged Turkish Cypriots.
Official results showed Christodoulides, 49, taking 51.9% of the vote, compared with runoff rival Andreas Mavroyiannis, 66, who took 48.1%.
Christodoulides ran as an independent with the backing of centrist and right-of-centre parties which typically take a hard line on solving the long-running division of Cyprus.
He broke ranks with his own party, the right-wing DISY, causing fissures in the dominant Cypriot political grouping which had backed its leader who was eliminated in the first knock-out race last weekend.
“I look you in the eyes and give you a promise – I will do everything to be worthy of your trust,” Christodoulides told an indoor stadium in the capital Nicosia packed with cheering supporters and accompanied by his wife and four daughters.
“I will be president of all Cypriots,” he said.
Heavy metal music from Joan Jett and Lenny Kravitz blared out of loudspeakers earlier.
Christodoulides has frequently been in the public eye in the past decade, either as government spokesman or as foreign minister until early 2022, with the persona of a young, energetic politician offering fresh ideas.
The next president faces problems ranging from a deadlock in reunification talks with Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island, and labour disputes amid runaway inflation, to the fallout from corruption scandals and a spike in migration that has left authorities coping with thousands of asylum applications.
Presidential elections are held once every five years. Nicos Anastasiades, a conservative of the ruling DISY party, has been in power since 2013, having been re-elected in 2018. By law, he could not seek a third term. He was widely reported as having favoured Christodoulides, causing discontent in DISY ranks.
“This election symbolises a continuity of the Nicos Anastasiades government,” said Hubert Faustmann, a Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Nicosia.
The more than half-century partition of Cyprus loomed large over the campaign. The island has been divided since a 1974 Turkish invasion, triggered by a coup instigated by Greece’s then-ruling military junta, though the seeds of division were sown earlier.
The last round of peace talks collapsed in disarray in mid 2017. Christodoulides says he wants to resume talks, but says a United Nations framework governing talks, issued in 2017, should be renegotiated.
There were hiccups along the way for Christodoulides. His inaugural appearance as a candidate last year went off-key after it came to light that his launch speech was very similar to one made by another presidential hopeful in 2008.
The race was also marred by claims that Christodoulides was busy laying the groundwork for his campaign long before his departure from public office in January 2022.
But he was, as the opposition Cyprus Mail daily put it on Sunday, the “Teflon candidate” on whom – despite everything thrown at him – nothing stuck.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Jane Merriman, David Holmes and Hugh Lawson)