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Daily Briefing: New Cypriot President Elected

20 Feb 2023

At a glance Cyprus’ former Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Christodoulides has been elected the new president of the European Union member state. He won almost 52% of the vote in the runoff election against the Left candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis, who previously served as the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Cyprus to the United Nations.  What is happening with Cyprus' new president? In his successful bid for the Cypriot presidency, Nikos Christodoulidis was supported by centrist and centre-right parties, while Andreas Mavrogiannis was backed by the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the party Generation Change. 

Though Christodoulidis is a member of the Democratic Rally (DISY) party, he ran as an independent, with endorsements from the Democratic Party (DIKO), the Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK), Democratic Alignment (DIPA) and the Solidarity Movement. 

In the first round of voting two weeks ago, Christodoulides had received 32% of the vote, while Mavrogiannis surpassed the ruling party DISY’s candidate with 29.6% to come in second - and secure his place in the run-off. 

After announcing in December 2021 that he would not seek a third term as president, Nicos Anastasiades did not run again and supported Nikos Christodoulidis’ bid for the presidency in the runoff election.   What is in it for you? The election was important because the Cypriot President, elected directly by the people, appoints and runs the government. The Turkish Cypriot north did not take part in the vote, only the southern part of the island voted.

Around 500,000 people were called to vote on the Mediterranean island. Turnout was 72.4%, slightly higher than in the first round of voting a week ago. Central themes of the election campaign were the increased cost of living, the fight against corruption and irregular migration.

Christodoulides had campaigned on a message of unity - which resonated with many voters. Mavrogiannis, on the other hand, had presented himself as a candidate of change. But voters might have been scared off by the fact that Mavrogiannis was supported by the Akel party, which has its roots in communism. Akel is accused of having brought Cyprus to the brink of bankruptcy ten years ago. It is also criticised for having a pro-Russian stance.

Challenges lie ahead for the future president of EU member Cyprus, such as a resumption of talks on the political reunification of the two parts of the island, as well as migration, labour disputes, and corruption scandals. After the military coup in Greece in 1974, a separate, internationally unrecognised state was proclaimed in northern Cyprus with the support of Turkey.

This political and geographical split of the island of Cyprus is key in understanding domestic as well as international politics in the Republic of Cyprus. Due to the division since 1974, the Greek part (the Republic of Cyprus) is a member of the European Union, while the Turkish-controlled side - the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” - remains unrecognised internationally.

The Turkish government does not recognise Cyprus’ international treaties, including the agreement concluded in 2003 to demarcate its exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Both Turkey and Cyprus repeatedly send exploratory ships to the eastern Mediterranean to search for mineral resources - regularly leading to tensions.

In October 2022,the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had ordered further arming the Turkish side of Cyprus after the US lifted the arms embargo on Cyprus. Turkey has recently come under pressure through the founding of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), an association of states from the region whose purpose is also to counter Ankara's expansionist policy there.    What happens next? With the run-off elections in Cyprus completed, the conflict between Greece and Turkey is certain to continue. An official recognition of the partition of the island is out of the question - both the Republic of Cyprus and for Greece.

Regarding Cypriot domestic policy, three key issues which dominated the election campaign will be crucial in determining Nikos Christodoulides’ success as President: the increased cost of living, the fight against corruption (specifically in view of the golden visas scandal), and irregular migration.

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