A moment of hope for Cyprus

Tassos Papadopoulos’s elecotral failure could mean progress towards peace on the island

Tassos Papadopoulos’s elecotral failure could mean progress towards peace on the island

On a day when the world was more occupied by more momentous events in another part of Europe, there has been a subtle change on the island of Cyprus.

The Greek, southern, internationally recognised part of the island was holding presidential elections that would effectively determine the next five years of relations with the north. The incumbent running for re-election, Tassos Papadopoulos, was by no means a shoo-in, but he was leading all the opinion polls. They turned out to be wrong – Mr Papadopoulos came third in today’s vote and failed to progress to next week’s run-off.

Greek Cypriots will choose next Sunday between Ioannis Kasoulides, a former foreign minister, and Demetris Christophias, leader of the communist AKEL party. Both have said they want to restart talks with the Turkish north, after negotiations stalled in the latter years of the Papadopoulos administration.

The precise policy of the eventual winner will not be clear for a while. Just 900 votes separated Mr Kasoulides and Mr Chirstophias today; as both will be courting Mr Papadopoulos’s supporters over the coming week, neither is likely to detail their plans for talks or reunification. But it is an encouraging result. Turnout was very high – at almost 90 percent – and more than two-thirds voted for the top two candidates, which shows that Greek Cypriot voters strongly favour a more conciliatory approach to the Cyprus problem.

What is certain is that Mr Papadopoulos will not be Cypriot president come next week. He is no loss. He was a source of frustration not just for leaders in Turkey, who found EU accession chapters suspended on his insistence, but also for leaders in Europe, who felt betrayed by his opposition to the Annan plan for Cypriot reunification in 2004. His pledges for a second term offered little change from this approach, and Cypriot voters have now told him what they think of them.

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