We now know who the main candidates will be and, indeed, who will more than likely win the contest.
The incumbent Dimitris Christofias, from communist AKEL, will not stand again. He has said this is because there exists no immediate prospect of a successful conclusion to the UN-led talks with the Turks aimed at reunifying Cyprus; but the truth is that the president is so reviled by Cypriots – for his handling of the Mari disaster; for his mismanagement of the economy; and for his general shameless ineptitude – that he would have faced an inevitable and humiliating defeat should he have chosen to put his record to the test.
AKEL has now chosen Stavros Malas as its candidate for the presidency. Malas is currently minister of health in the Christofias government and belongs to the tiny United Democrats party, the most dovish and pro-Annan political group in Cyprus. Malas is a feeble candidate, virtually unknown to the Cypriot public and he has no chance of being elected president. In the first round of the election, expect him to take between 18-22 percent of votes, which will be at least 10 percent less than Christofias received in the first round of the 2008 contest.
Standing as an independent but with the backing of socialist EDEK is Giorgos Lillikas. Lillikas started off in AKEL, and was nominated by that party to serve in the Tassos Papadopoulos administration, first as commerce and industry minister then as foreign minister. In government, Lillikas became so enamored with Papadopoulos that he decided to support him against Christofias in 2008, an act of ‘treachery’ for which Lillikas was expelled from AKEL and earned him that party’s abiding enmity.
However, it is not only AKEL that has a personal grudge against Lillikas. His reputation for vaulting ambition and opportunism – his decision to support Papadopoulos in 2008 was regarded as a tactical move designed to keep his job as foreign minister, given that most people expected Papadopoulos to be re-elected – has also alienated him from Papadopoulos’ party, centrist DIKO, which even though it shares the harder stance of Lillikas on the Cyprus issue, decided not to back him for 2013.
In the first round of the election, expect Lillikas to obtain between 15-20 percent of votes.
The man DIKO has decided to back for president is Nikos Anastasiades, the leader of conservative DISY, which is the largest party on the island.
This is a remarkable turnaround for DIKO, which not only, when Tassos Papadopoulos was its leader, entered into an alliance with AKEL that allowed, in 2001, Christofias to be appointed president of the House of Representatives – boosting his profile and prestige – in exchange for the communists supporting Papadopoulos in the 2003 presidential race; but also, in the 2008 presidential run-off, again following instructions from Papadopoulos, backed Christofias against DISY’s Ioannis Cassoulides, and gave the AKEL leader victory.
Now, having acrimoniously abandoned Christofias and ditched its alliance with AKEL, DIKO will support in Anastasiades a man who was not only vitriolic in opposing Tassos Papadopoulos throughout his presidency, damaging him domestically and internationally; but who also notoriously backed in 2004 the reviled Annan plan.
Given the lingering antagonism towards Anastasiades, it is not entirely clear that DIKO supporters will vote en masse the way they have been asked to by the party leadership. Many may well decide to vote for Lillikas, especially since Nikolas Papadopoulos, son of the former president, was one of the minority of senior DIKO officials to oppose the alliance with DISY and state that Lillikas’ views on the Cyprus issue were closer to DIKO’s than Anastasiades’.
Nevertheless, partly because most DIKO voters will go along with their leadership and partly because the 2013 election will be more about the dire state of the economy than the Cyprus issue, Anastasiades will receive between 45-50 percent of first round votes, which means he may not need a run-off to secure the presidency.
However, even if a run-off is necessary, it is still hard to imagine either Malas or Lillikas coming from so far back to defeat Anastasiades on the second Sunday.