The global financial crisis was seriously affecting Cyprus since 2010 and its impact was gradually expanding on politics and the society. In May 2011, Cyprus was excluded from world markets, and on 11 July 2011, an explosion of ammunition seized from a ship and stored in a military base took place near Mari village. After a few weeks, DIKO withdrew from the government in which it participated with AKEL.

The starting point for the February 2013 presidential election process was a joint announcement – a manifesto by the parties of the center, called the “in-between” [the two poles] political forces, namely DIKO, EDEK, EUROKO and the ECOLOGISTS, on 30 April 2012. These were their agreed positions on the economy, education, health, gas and energy policy, the European Union, the State and institutions, as well as the environment and sustainable development. Special emphasis was put on the Cyprus Problem and its handling. The four parties were very critical of the government and its policies. They noted that the situation regarding institutions, the lack of meritocracy and practices of offering services to party affiliated persons were painting a depressing picture. On the Cyprus Problem, they claimed that Christofias’ handling of negotiations was marginalising the agreement of 8 July 2006, concluded by Tassos Papadopoulos with the TC leader. Also with adopting a flexible approach, while promoting a solution “of Cypriot ownership” there were fears of promoting a solution worse than the 2004 Annan Plan. The framework adopted by the four parties was presented as a basis for co-operation in the presidential election of February 2013.

Two weeks later, on 14 May 2012, President Demetris Christofias announced that he would not seek re-election. He justified his decision in the light of his earlier statement that without substantial progress on the Cyprus Problem he would not wish to continue as head of the State. This was the first time, the outgoing President of the Republic did not seek re-election.

The situation in the economy was deteriorating, and the government was reluctant to take steps to halt the negative course. Under pressure, it decided to seek help from the European Support Mechanism around the end of June 2012. Negotiations to agree a support framework with a Memorandum of Understanding remained inconclusive. While the signing of a framework agreement appeared imminent, the government was reluctant to accept the need for drastic measures. So the issue of signing a memorandum remained pending and it would be up to the winner of the February 2013 presidential elections to agree the terms. However, the pressing situation inevitably led to the adoption in December 2012 of measures such as cuts on salaries, pensions and others to save the economy.

In the meantime, the attempt to reach an electoral pact and co-operation of the ‘center’ parties did not work. Giorgos Lillikas, a former minister in the Tassos Papadopoulos government, took advantage of the hesitant pace of these parties and announced his candidacy in early June 2012. At the same time, the political bureau of AKEL unanimously decided to support the candidacy of Stavros Malas, a scientist in genetics, working at the Institute of Neurology and Genetics in Nicosia. His candidacy was approved with 95% by the party’s Central Committee on 17 July and by 92.3% by an extraordinary party congress, four days later. At the end of July, EDEK decided to support Giorgos Lillika’s candidacy, while DIKO began consulting with DISY. On 24 September 2012, DIKO and DISY signed a multi-page framework agreement, with their agreed positions on the Cypriot, energy and economy, specifically on development model, fiscal policy and social and health policy issues. Thus, DIKO decided to support Nicos Anastasiades’ candidacy. On 27 September, the Supreme Council of DIKO approved the agreement with a large majority, 80.6%. At the same time, DISY and EUROKO came also to an agreement, in support of Anastasiades’ candidacy, with key executives Nicos Koutsou and Stelios Americanos disagreeing with the decision and party president Demetris Syllouris.

Nicos Anastasiades, a longtime politician in the Democratic Rally, became president of the party in 1997, when then-president, Yiannakis Matsis, decided to step down. During Clerides’ presidency, the party leader and DISY executives were often at odds with the Presidential Palace. Disagreements over information or coordination were often the main cause. During the referendum on the Annan plan in April 2004, Anastasiades and the party leadership were clearly in favor of the plan. This resulted in multiple splits of DISY at the highest level of leadership, with many officials leaving the party or been expelled. Three new party formations by DISY dissidents contested the election in 2006, with EUROKO electing three deputies. Despite the split, DISY managed to recover and maintained the lead in the party scene, an achievement credited to Anastasiades himself and his handling of the situation. His style and, often, his authoritarian behavior did not help to gain a popular image among the electorate. However, the failure of Christofias’s rule allowed Anastasiades to emerge as both a solution to the crisis and the savior of the country.

In the face of the unprecedented crisis that brought the country to a point of total collapse, candidate Nicos Anastasiades put forward the slogan “Crisis needs a leader”. Regarding the crisis, he presented as a guarantee for Cyprus the support he could draw thanks to the good relations his party DISY and himself had with the leaders of the European People’s Party and especially with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In support of this, the EPP held a conference in Cyprus in the second week of January 2013 under the auspices of Nicos Anastasiades. In addition, the candidate presented numerous promises, assurances and commitments, with solutions for everything. He claimed that he had sources of funding, that would guarantee three months of financial comfort, without problems until agreement was reached with the European Support Mechanism.

Stavros Malas was an official and candidate for the United Democrats party, with limited presence  in the public sphere. In 2011, he sought again election to the parliament, but on the AKEL ticket for Paphos, without success. He also had a presence in bi-communal rapprochement groups related to the Cyprus Problem. He publicly presented his proposal for the presidency on 7 September 2012, promoting himself as an independent candidate. He presented the slogan “a new face, a new proposal, a new era” with a logo that featured the main parties’ colors (green – EDEK, orange – DIKO, red – AKEL and blue – DISY). Deep blue (used in the candidate’s name) and blue (in slogan and logo) dominated.

In his election campaign, Stavros Malas first responded to the slogan of Anastasiades, with his own slogan, “NO, the leader needs a critical mind”, then stating that “YES, the crisis needs a reliable leader.”

Giorgos Lillikas served as Youth Secretary during the government of Giorgos Vassiliou (1988-1993), and was subsequently elected deputy of AKEL (1996 and 2001). In 2003 he was appointed Minister of Commerce in the government of Tassos Papadopoulos (as one of AKEL’s ministers) and later took over the Foreign Ministry. When AKEL decided to promote Demetris Christofias’ presidential nomination in 2007, Lillikas “needed to reflect on whom to support”, and in September 2007 announced that he was joining Tassos Papadopoulos’ camp. He even assumed the role of campaign coordinator for Papadopoulos, whom all polls projected as winner of the election. Ppadopoulos’ electoral failure put Lillikas at odds with DIKO.

He entered the race first, imitating Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, “Together We Can.” He also put forward his candidacy as a choice of citizens, in opposition to Anastasiades’ candidacy, which presented it as a dilemma between “Anastasiades and Garoyian or Lillikas and Citizens?”

Eight more candidates joined the contest for the presidency of the Republic, including two women, for the first time, the President of EDI Praxoula Antoniadou, and Andri Makaria Stylianou, who emerged from a protest movement organized against Christofias, after the explosion near Mari village. Giorgos Charalambous represented ELAM, Lakis Ioannou LASOK, while Solon Gregoriou, Costas Kyriakou Utopos, Andreas Efstratiou and Loukas Stavrou were also candidates.

The polls showed the uncertainty of the candidate who would face Nicos Anastasiades in the second round, while also supporting a scenario of Anastasiades’ election in the first round. AKEL was clearly weakened by the economic downturn and the aftermath of the explosion in Mari. Another problem it was facing was the fact that Giorgos Lillikas came from his ranks, while some (mostly old) party executives supported his candidacy. This hampered the party’s efforts to rally voters in support of Stavros Malas. There were also problems for DIKO in trying to secure support for Nicos Anastasiades. Part of the party’s leadership, around mainly Nicholas Papadopoulos, put their energy in support of Giorgos Lillikas. They did not forgive Anastasiades’ rivalry with Tassos Papadopoulos during the 2004 referendum.

During the return of results, helped also by exit polls, there was projected the possibility that there would be no second round, that Nicos Anastasiades would secure an absolute majority. Of course, the trends that emerged from the beginning in the flow of results did not justify this projection. In the end, he got 200,000 votes, 45.5%; exit polls were giving him 48-53%, completely deviating from the actual results, and even outside the margins of statistical error. Stavros Malas overtook Giorgos Lillikas by exactly two points or about 9,000 votes (he received 26.9%). The remaining eight candidates totaled 2.7 points. The abstention, which had already increased significantly in the 2011 parliamentary elections (21.3%), jumped from 11.2 in 2008 to 16.9%.

In the second round, Giorgos Lillikas called those who voted for him to abstain. Nicos Anastasiades won the ballot and the presidency of the Republic by a clear margin, with 57.5%, the highest share any candidate had secured in a two-round ballot in the post-Makarios era. The call for abstention had a limited impact, abstention rate increased by only 1.5 points. However, there was an increase in void and blank ballot papers, from 2.7% in the first round to 7.4%. This is common when candidates are supported or belong to the two ideology poles. When taking into account the share of Giorgos Lillikas (24.9%), the difference noted above between the two ballots in abstention and invalid-blank votes appears very small.