NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Conservative candidate Nicos Anastasiades won Cyprus‘ presidential runoff election Sunday by one of the widest margins in 30 years and will quickly have to face the formidable task of preventing the country from suffering a financial meltdown.
Mr. Anastasiades won with 57.48 percent, far ahead of left-wing rival Stavros Malas, who had 42.51 percent of the vote, according to final results.
Cypriots chose their leader at a critical time, and the new president will be under pressure to quickly finalize a financial rescue package with the eurozone’s other 16 countries and the International Monetary Fund.
Sunday’s vote was “a clear and strong mandate for change and reforms to lift our country out of the vicious circle of crisis,” Anastasiades spokesman Tasos Mitsopoulos said after exit polls showed he would be a clear winner.
As results trickled in just after polls closed, Mr. Anastasiades‘ supporters celebrated outside his campaign headquarters in the capital, Nicosia, honking horns and waving flags.
The new president will face a tough battle convincing reluctant countries, especially European economic powerhouse Germany, that tiny Cyprus deserves help after its banks lost billions of euros on bad Greek debt.
Mr. Anastasiades will let the world know that “we’re determined to assume our responsibilities, restore Cyprus‘ credibility, fight to implement change and reform while demanding form our (European Unoin) partners to stand in solidarity with us,” Mr. Mitsopoulos added.
“I state that we will stand by the new president if we assess his actions and policies to be for the good of the country because the unity of our people is what’s most important right now,” Mr. Malas said as he conceded the election. “At the same time, we will be strong critics of whichever actions and decisions that we deem not to serve the country’s best interests.”
Mr. Anastasiades has capitalized on what many feel were five years of failed left-wing rule under outgoing President Dimitris Christofias and his communist-rooted AKEL party — which backed Mr. Malas — that caused Cyprus‘ sorry economic state.
The 66-year-old Mr. Anastasiades, leader of the main opposition Democratic Rally party, has boasted of his connections with Europe’s center-right leaders and seeks to spend political capital he’s built up over the years to convince Europe that Cyprus deserves help.
Last year, Cyprus sought financial assistance of up to 17 billion euros ($22.7 billion), a sum roughly equivalent to its annual gross domestic product, which has raised concerns whether the country would be able to pay back any loan. The country has been unable to borrow from international markets since mid-2011 and turned to long-time ally Russia last year for a 2.5 billion euro ($3.3 billion) loan to keep it afloat.
Cyprus, a divided island of around 1 million people in the far eastern end of the Mediterranean, is one of the smallest members of the 27-nation European Union and faces deep political and economic problems. The country has a presidential system of government, and the office carries a lot of power.
Cyprus already has enacted deep public-sector wage cuts and tax increases under a preliminary bailout agreement.