NICOSIA — Lawmakers in Cyprus on Thursday elected a woman to the country's second most powerful political post for the first time since its founding as an independent republic in 1960.
Annita Demetriou was elected parliamentary speaker on the second ballot with 25 votes in the 56-seat parliament. The choice seen as a major step in leveling the political playing field for women in the divided eastern Mediterranean island, who have been traditionally under-represented in politics.
The 36-year-old lawmaker said that she assumes the post "with a deep sense of responsibility" and pledged to work with "impartiality and objectivity."
Political leaders and colleagues praised Demetriou, the only female among other six other male rivals for the position.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he's "particularly pleased" with Demetriou's election because a woman now holds the country's most powerful political post behind the presidency.
"What's most important is that a strong message is being sent out to all women of Cyprus, to all citizens of Cyprus, that women can and must strive for such positions because they deserve them," Anastasiades told reporters.
Demetriou belongs to the center-right Democratic (DISY) Party that Anastasiades previously led for many years.
There have been a number of notable female politicians in the country's 61-year history since gaining independence from British colonial rule. But the proportion of women to men holding top positions has been dismal.
In last month's parliamentary election, only eight women were elected in the 56-seat body — three less than in its previous composition.
Anastasiades' has three female ministers in his 15-member Cabinet and hinted to reporters that he may appoint more women during an reshuffle expected shortly, saying the election was also "a message also directed at me."
Demetriou for the last five years served in a senior legislative position as parliamentary secretary.
First elected to parliament in 2016, Demetriou who earned a graduate degree from Britain's University of Kent also served as deputy chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities between Men and Women and the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture.