NICOSIA - Cyprus voted on Sunday for a new president in an election that opinion polls indicate is unlikely to produce a clear winner, setting the stage for a runoff on Feb. 12.
Heralding the end of two terms for incumbent conservative President Nicos Anastasiades, some 561,000 Greek Cypriots are eligible to vote after a campaign dominated by issues such as corruption, a deadlocked peace process with estranged Turkish Cypriots, labour disputes related to accelerating inflation, and irregular migration.
Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and close at 1600 GMT. Weather forecasters said there would be heavy rain and storms on Sunday, which could affect voter turnout.
With 14 candidates in the running, opinion polls point to a race between three frontrunners: former foreign minister Nikos Christodouldes, who is leading the polls, right-wing DISY party leader Averof Neophytou, and career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis backed by the leftist AKEL party.
An editorial in the liberal daily newspaper Politis said Cyprus had been called to elect a president to rule "with honesty, fairness and transparency", while bigger-selling Phileleftheros highlighted expectations of high voter abstention.
Opinion polls indicate none of the frontrunners will muster an outright majority, leading to a runoff. All three main contenders have been close associates of Anastasiades, who by law cannot contest a third five-year term.
There is a perception that irrespective of who wins, there would be a continuation of Anastasiades' policies, said Fiona Mullen, director of Sapienta Economics.
"I think that is probably least in the case of Mavroyiannis, more in the case of Christodoulides," she said. "On foreign policy I think Christodoulides is going to be closer to how Anastasiades has been in his final years," she added, calling that policy "more assertive".
In 2020, while Christodoulides was foreign minister, Cyprus held out for about a month on European Union sanctions imposed on Belarus to protest that government's handling of an election, because the island-nation wanted more action from the bloc against Turkey in a dispute over offshore gas resources.
Cyprus has complied with all sanctions against Belarus and Russia, a close ally, following the latter's invasion of Ukraine.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by David Holmes and Christopher Cushing)