NICOSIA – President Nicos Anastasiades on Feb. 4 will square off with the man he beat in 2013, the Communist-backed Nicos Malas, in a President election centered around the recovering economy and the collapsed unity talks with Turkish-Cypriots.
Malas, a geneticist, is hoping Cypriots will remember Anastasiades reneged on promises five years ago not to let bank accounts be seized to save the institutions, authorizing the confiscation of 47.5 percent of those over 100,000 euros ($124,860) to save them from their own mismanagement.
Anastasiades also failed to hold accountable the managers who let banks have big holdings in Greek bonds devalued 74 percent and for bad loans to Greek businesses during that country’s economic crisis.
But tourism and a 10-billion euro ($12.5 billion) international bailout, not all of which was used, and tough austerity measures have created a recovery, giving the government a boost and as Anastasiades said some of the largesse would go to repaying burned depositors.
Anastasiades overwhelmed Malas five years ago and the challenger this time is pointing toward the President missing an opportunity to bring the island together again almost 44 years after an unlawful Turkish invasion saw the northern third occupied.
Anastasiades walked away from negotiations with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana after Turkey demanded the right to keep an army on the island and the right to militarily intervene.
Malas said that he would not agree to a settlement solution that would leave Turkish troops on the island, did not abolish guarantees and did not allow the return of Morphou and that he, too, would be willing to consider a rotating Presidency if it included cross-voting.
Five years later, Malas, 50, is hoping to turn the tables on the short-fused Anastasiades, 71, presenting himself as the youthful leader who’ll give crisis-squeezed households a break but the polls show the incumbent a big favorite to hold his office.
Malas grew up in Paphos where his family moved after fleeing their village of Ayios Sergios in 1974 when Turkey’s invasion split Cyprus along ethnic lines. He earned a doctorate in genetics from University College in London and later worked as a researcher.
After 14 years in the United Kingdom, he moved with his wife and four children to Cyprus in 2001 and continued his work at the Cyprus Institute of Genetics and Research.
His involvement in the country’s politics started in 2011 when he was appointed health minister in the administration of President Demetris Christofias, a Communist who quit after also failing in a reunification bid. Malas resigned his post in October 2012 when he decided to run for the presidency.
He managed to achieve 43 percent of the vote in the 2013 runoff with Anastasiades, a respectable number given the strong public backlash against the Christofias government.
Malas’ appeal is that he’s a relative outsider who’s not a product of Cyprus’ political machine that many voters — particularly younger ones — derisively view as corrupt and ineffectual.
A mild-mannered politician, he’s running as a straight-talking independent. His left-leaning, pro-welfare state policies resonate with many. But his relative inexperience showed through at the last televised debate when he was browbeaten by Anastasiades on the complex politics of the island’s reunification talks.
Anastasiades has for decades been a mover and shaker on Cyprus’ political scene. He has honed his political instincts as leader of Cyprus’ second-largest political party, the right-wing Democratic Rally, over a 10-year tenure, having been re-elected five times.
He was elected to Parliament in 1981 and held a seat there until 2013 when he fulfilled his ultimate ambition of becoming president with a 57.4-percent share of the vote.
His lengthy leadership of parliamentary groups has allowed him to build a wide network of contacts with foreign political leaders, which his supporters say undergirds his skills at statesmanship.
He credits his conservative, pro-business outlook for helping to turn the economy around after a 2013 economic crisis rivaled only by the economic contraction that ensued after the 1974 war.
The temperamental Anastasiades surrounds himself with capable counselors and advisers who buff his image. Detractors accuse him of being short on credibility and saying whatever is politically expedient to achieve his aims.
Anastasiades studied law at the University of Athens and earned a post-graduate degree in maritime law from the University of London. He is married and has two daughters.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)