Tassos Papadopoulos was knocked out of the race to win a second five-year term as president of Cyprus yesterday, rekindling hopes for a settlement on the divided eastern Mediterranean island.
The election,was a verdict on Papadopoulos and his handling of the island's 34-year ethnic division. Communist party leader Demetris Christofias, 61, and 59-year-old former Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides of the conservative DISY party will now vie for the five-year presidency in a Feb. 24 runoff.
"We're called on to decide on Cyprus's future," Christofias, 61, said in statements broadcast on CyBC. "We all sense that time is running out as long as things remain stagnant."
Now both candidate will need to secure support from Papadopoulos ahead of the second round. With all the vote counted, Kassoulides had 33.5 percent, Christofias 33.3 percent and Papadopoulos 31.8 percent. No opinion polls had shown Papadopoulos, 74, losing in the first round.
Kassoulides had supported the UN plan while Christofias had opposed it. Both acknowledge the blueprint cannot be revived but they also favour talks on reuniting the island.
"If you want to extract a political message out of it, 65 percent of Greek Cypriots voted for clear pro-solution candidates," political analyst Hubert Faustmann told Reuters. "The Greek Cypriots are back at the negotiation table."
Papadopoulos, 74, was instrumental in blocking the United Nations-backed plan to end the division of the country, arguing the plan gave Turkish Cypriots more land and political power than their 20 percent weighting in the population. Turkish Cypriots voted for the proposal.
Yesterday, after news of his defeat, Papadopoulos said he was unrepentant, saying the rejection of the plan meant the ``Republic of Cyprus'' was rescued.
Turkish Cypriot spokesman Hasan Ercakika said: "The removal of an intransigent party should speed up the start of the process."
Despite Turkish Cypriot approval of the 2004 U.N. plan, its rejection by Greek Cypriots in separate referenda meant the island joined the European Union that year still divided.
Some 516,000 voters, including 390 Turkish Cypriots living in the south, were registered to vote, and turnout was more than 89 percent, election authorities said. Voting is compulsory in Cyprus.