Exit poll shows conservative leading comfortably in crisis-hit Cyprus' presidential vote

Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus - Conservative candidate Nicos Anastasiades was set to defeat his left-wing rival Stavros Malas by a wide margin in Cyprus' runoff presidential election Sunday, exit polls showed, as Cypriots cast ballots for who will lead them through the country's financial crisis.

The poll by state broadcaster CyBC showed Anastasiades with 57.5-61.5 per cent of the vote, far ahead of Malas with 38.5-42.5 per cent. The poll used a sample of 4,000 voters and has a margin of error of 2 per cent. A simple majority is needed for a win.

If confirmed, the margin of victory will be one of the largest for any candidate in 30 years. With the release of the exit poll results, dozens of Anastasiades' supporters broke into cheers outside his campaign headquarters in the capital, Nicosia.

The election comes at a crucial time. Cyprus faces the spectre of economic meltdown, and the new president will be under pressure to quickly finalize a financial rescue package with the eurozone's other 16 countries and the International Monetary Fund.

He also will face a tough battle convincing reluctant countries, especially Germany, that tiny Cyprus deserves help after its banks lost billions of euros on bad Greek debt.

Last year, Cyprus sought financial assistance of up to €17 billion ($22.7 billion), a sum roughly equivalent to its annual gross domestic product, which has raised concerns about whether the country would be able to pay back any loan.

The country has been unable to borrow from international markets since mid-2011, and turned to long-time ally Russia last year for a €2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) loan to keep it afloat.

Cyprus, a divided island of around 1 million people in the far eastern end of the Mediterranean, is one of the smallest members of the 27-nation European Union. It already has enacted deep public sector wage cuts and tax hikes under a preliminary bailout agreement.

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