- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Money appears to be no problem in the Greek Cypriot presidential election as candidates lavish pledges and book blocks of airline seats to bring voters from as far away as the United States and Australia.

Incumbent President Tassos Papadopoulos is leading the field of potential spenders as the Feb. 17 election approaches, promising tax breaks and subsidies that some estimate would cost $28 billion over the next five years.

All candidates have promised to increase state support for large families, farmers and pensioners, with no added taxes.

There is “a paroxysm of excess regarding pensions, subsidies, loans, incentives and guarantees and anything else you can imagine,” said Loukas G. Charalambous, a Greek Cypriot political analyst.

Mr. Papadopoulos has made 161 electoral promises, which his backers have outlined in a booklet distributed to voters.

According to the Cyprus Mail daily newspaper, the three leading candidates have made promises that are “superficial, unrealistic and unenforceable.”

“Politicians still believe voters can be fooled with empty promises that cost nothing and that nobody will remember after February,” the newspaper said.

The vote affects 650,000 Greek Cypriots in the southern part of the Mediterranean island divided between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. About 110,000 foreigners are living in Cyprus.

Mehmet Ali Talat, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, thinks that the winner of the Greek Cypriot vote “will probably be the last to lead negotiations for a Cyprus [unification] settlement based on a federal model.”

In addition to Mr. Papadopoulos, two other leading candidates are Demetris Christofias, head of the communist AKEL party, and Ioannis Kasoulides, former foreign minister and candidate of the opposition DISY party.

Mr. Christofias said he would work for a solution to reunite the divided island, but “we will fight not to give Turkey 37 percent of our land.”

Negotiations between the two protagonists in the Cypriot imbroglio have been blocked since 2004, when the Greek Cypriots, urged on by Mr. Papadopoulos, rejected in a referendum a U.N. proposal for a federal solution, which the Turkish Cypriots have accepted.

Mr. Papadopoulos is regarded as a “no-compromise candidate” toward Turkey, which maintains about 35,000 troops in the northern part of the island.

Cyprus has no voting by absentee ballot, and the three leading candidates together have booked about 15,000 seats on Cyprus Airways, the national carrier, plus seats on other airlines and charter flights for their backers who live or study abroad.

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