Fourteen candidates formally joined the race on Thursday to become Cyprus’s next president in an election next month dominated by the island’s decades-old division, irregular migration and corruption scandals.
Cyprus has a presidential system of government, and the head of state has wide executive powers.
Opinion polls show Nikos Christodoulides, a former foreign minister, firmly in the lead.
Barring a major upset, he will fall short of the 50% threshold in the first round on February 5, leading to a runoff the following Sunday, February 12.
“My candidacy seeks to unite the Cypriot people and not divide it,” Christodoulides, 49, told reporters after his nomination, pledging to form a broad-based administration if elected.
Cyprus, with 561,000 registered voters, is a small island with a big problem; it was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup and remains a key source of tension between NATO members Greece and Turkey.
All leading candidates in the election have pledged to push for a resumption of peace talks which collapsed in July 2017.
Christodoulides’ backers, the centrist DIKO and the socialist EDEK party have historically taken a harder line than other groupings.
As well as the island’s division, voters are concerned about a cash-for-passports scandal, in which thousands of wealthy foreigners acquired Cypriot citizenship, and about irregular migration, which has put a strain on public resources.
Christodoulides served in the right-wing administration of the ruling Democratic Rally (DISY) party until January 2022.
DISY is fielding its own candidate, Averof Neophytou, who is about 10 points behind Christodoulides in the polls.
Neophytou said: “The country needs competent leadership, more than ever; the coming years will be crucial for the country and its citizens.”
He is marginally ahead of Andreas Mavroyiannis, an independent backed by the left-wing AKEL party.
Other candidates include Achilleas Demetriades, a lawyer who was instrumental in Cyprus changing its anti-gay laws at the European Court of Human Rights and achieving the first conviction of Turkey at the same court for violating the rights of a displaced Greek Cypriot.
According to Chief Returning Officer Costas Constantinou, the number of candidates is a record.
“Today, we have broken the record of 11 in 2013 as we have 14 candidates.”
The 14 runners are: Andreas Efstratiou, Lukas Stavrou, Celestina De Petro, Christos Christou, Andronikos Zervides, Achilleas Demetriades, Alexios Savvides, Andreas Mavroyiannis, Georgios Kolokasidis, Averof Neophytou, Charalambos Aristotelous, Constantinos Christofides, Julia Khovrina Komnenos, Nikos Christodoulides. (source Reuters/CNA)