Former foreign minister leads 1st round of Cyprus presidential vote

(Update 1: Adds exit poll)

Nicosia, Feb 5 (EFE).- Former foreign minister and independent candidate Nikos Jristodulidis has won the first round of presidential elections in Cyprus, according to exit polls ahead of a final round of voting this week.

He is likely to face off against fellow independent Andreas Mavroyiannis, who was holding off third place Averof Neofitu of the conservative DISY party.

Polling booths in Cyprus opened on earlier Sunday for over half a million registered voters, who are set to elect the eighth president for a five-year term.

Polling will be held again on Feb. 12 to elect the new head of state in a runoff between the two top contenders.

The main challenges before the new president would be cleaning the country’s image – hit by multiple corruption scandals – and continuing the difficult negotiations for the island’s reunification.

The island is divided between the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004, and the de-facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — only recognized by Ankara — formed after the 1974 Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation of 36 percent of the island.

The 1,150 polling booths opened at 7 am in the districts of Nicosia, Famagusta, Limassol Larnaka and Pafos.

Moreover, 35 polling stations have been established in other countries, such as Greece and the United Kingdom, which house a significant number of Cypriots with voting rights.

Definitive results are expected to be released around two hours after the voting concludes.

As per the latest prepoll surveys, Jristodulidis was the favorite to win the polls with 26-33 percent support.

He was followed by the ruling conservative party DISY’s candidate Neofitu, who received 23 percent support in the polls.

The third contender in the tight race was Mavroyiannis (22 percent support), an independent backed by the communist party and the leader of opposition.

Cyprus is a presidential republic where the head of state also functions as the head of government.

Anastasiadis has been in power since 2013, and is unable to contest again because a 2019 constitutional amendment limits the number of presidential terms to two. EFE


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