The setting of the 2018 elections was significantly different from that of 2013, while both contests were between almost the same people. In addition to the 2013 contestants, Nicos Anastasiades, already President of the Republic, Stavros Malas, who was again supported by AKEL and George Lillikas, a new person was seeking election. For the first time, Nicholas Papadopoulos, who in January 2014 became the chairman of DIKO, came forward as a presidential candidate. The process of selecting and nominating candidates presented several elements that were similar with those of previous elections. It was a difficult task for some forces, disagreements and controversies emerged, while the so-called intermediate or center forces were in a somewhat better situation than before. Four parties supported the candidacy of Nicholas Papadopoulos, with only the Citizens’ Alliance of George Lillikas breaking with them.

The course leading to the presidential elections of February 2018 was inaugurated, as in 2013, by the parties of the “intermediate space”. On April 24, the leaders of DIKO, EDEK, Solidarity, the Citizens’ Alliance and the Ecologists met. The three decided to support the candidacy of Nicholas Papadopoulos, while the leader of the Citizens’ Alliance George Lillikas immediately disagreed with the “pre-arranged choice”, and George Perdikis, of the Ecologists, reserved the decision of the Movement. Three days later, DIKO’s political bureau unanimously approved the party leader’s candidacy, while the central committee’s decision was taken by acclamation. Six months later, and after a meeting between Nicholas Papadopoulos with the leadership of the Ecologists Movement, they reached an agreement on a framework of common positions. The assembly of the Movement decided to support Papadopoulos’ candidacy, with 83% (39 votes in favor, two each in favor of Lillikas, Malas and Anastasiades, two blank votes).

George Lillikas, who was the 2013 presidential candidate of EDEK, with tacit support from Nicholas Papadopoulos and other executives of DIKO, followed his own path, promoting his own candidacy. This led to some fierce clashes with the EDEK leadership, and milder ones with DIKO.

AKEL was also in search for a candidate, and the media were citing some names. Around the end of May 2017, it was reported that Mike Spanos, an economist and businessman, with a positions in various companies and organizations, appeared as the dominant choice. On 7 June, the Central Committee of the party decided to adopt the candidacy, which it would then submit to the party’s grassroots groups. During the decision-making process, members of the Central Committee were placed with reservations, with some being against the choice. Spanos had in the past taken positions opposing those of AKEL, especially regarding the economic crisis and its handling. In his first public statements, he said that his election would “bring about a revolution”, while he described the parties as “evil bodies”. It soon became clear that the leadership of AKEL started to have doubts about their choice. On the 15 June 2017, the party’s secretary general and the prospective candidate jointly announced a “consensual divorce”.

The search for a new candidate soon led to the same choice as that of 2013, Stavros Malas. With 75%, the Central Committee of AKEL approved Mala’s candidacy, on 22 July. The sealing of the candidacy by an extraordinary congress of the party, on 2 September 2017, was effected with an overwhelming majority, with 955 votes in favor, 3 against and 5 abstentions. It was preceded by the official announcement by Stavros Malas of his candidacy, on 2 September. A group of 26 people – supporters of his “independent” candidacy – were also present. Among them were former ministers and other politicians, academics and individuals from various professional groups. Also present were three veteran football players of the club “Omonia”.

On October 14, 2017, the outgoing President of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades announced in a special gathering his candidacy, seeking a second term. He referred extensively to the achievements of his government during the past five years and called on all “to join forces to move forward steadily, and build a secure future”.

The National Popular Front – ELAM presented also a candidate, who appeared to have serious chances to secure a significant percentage of votes. ELAM is known to have close connections with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, as a branch of it. Its candidate won only 3899 votes or 0.88% in 2013, but the 2018 candidacy of its president, Christos Christou, could draw greater support, since, in the 2016 parliamentary elections, the party received 13,000 votes or 3.7%.

As in previous contests, four other candidates with no party-backing ran, with the only prospect to enjoy some publicity that securing a substantial number of votes.

From the early stages of electoral ‘transactions’, there had been reports in newspapers about the outgoing rector of the University of Cyprus, Konstantinos Christofides running as a candidate. Despite his many appearances in the media, he never confirmed that he would be a candidate, while his name was also included as an option in opinion polls. On 10 October 2017, in a lengthy announcement, he made known his decision not to run. Among other things, he said that the “voters were mentally switched with a focus on parties” and he would wait until this changed.

The campaign- Issues and objectives

The features of the campaign were once again in line with past elections. All candidates presented proposals on a large number of issues with an emphasis on the economy in general. Specific sectors were also addressed, with a varying attention in each candidate’s programme; they included employment, growth, social care, assistance to groups affected by the crisis. Other sectors, such as health, education, culture, immigration, the environment were also addressed, while positions on the Cyprus Problem and the main parameters of a solution formed a separate chapter. The approach adopted was mostly bureaucratic and managerial, or it was an amalgam of stereotypical phrases. Attempts to discredit the opponents by referring to their past, views, behaviour or relations were an everyday phenomenon of the campaign.

The electoral programme of Nicos Anastasiades was two-fold: In a short pamphlet, he presented the main challenges he faced at the start of his presidency, followed by a description of actions in various sectors. The conclusion was that his government had ensured a solid present on which to found his vision for the future. His main programme, “the vision, the plan and the work of Nicos Anastasiades” set six main goals. They were a solidly founded and growing economy, a new model of growth, a more just and modern digital state, a state caring for the citizen, the claim of an energy and geostrategic role for Cyprus and the pursuance of a solution that would lead to the re-unification of the country. The State coming from a solution would be independent and secure, a modern European State. As in 2013, Anastasiades’ main positions were a follow up on the party’s main slogan in the previous (2016) parliamentary elections; ‘Stable steps forward’ pointed to actions that ensured a solid ground, so that the country headed towards the future with confidence.

A new model of development was aiming at strengthening the traditional sectors of economic activity and expanding it to new ones. The promotion of and support to entrepreneurial innovation, and the strengthening of competitiveness for attracting of investments would assist and support this model. Reforms of the administration, of the judicial system, transparency and fight against corruption, along with the promotion of e-government would modernise the state. The chapter on social policies, which covered almost half of Anastasiades’ programme, addressed a plurality of issues, including employment, health services, state care, education, family issues, the environment and other aspects of life. The government expected to apply its plans for the management of hydrocarbons and enhance the country’s defence.

Policies on the Cyprus Problem were covered briefly emphasizing that Anastasiades’ handling shifted the focus of negotiations on security and guarantees.

Nicholas Papadopoulos started his campaign by promoting the idea and the slogan of a new strategy ‘for the Republic of Cyprus and the solution of the Cyprus Problem’. As the youngest of candidates (44), he adopted also the slogan ‘with the power of our generation’, targeting young voters. Papadopoulos’ main slogan was ‘Change, Reliability, Hope’, claiming that he was the only candidate to bring change.

The new strategy was a 40-page document, half of which was containing criticisms of Anastasiades’ positions, with the rest proposing a solution that would warrant the continuation of the Republic of Cyprus. Measures proposed by Papadopoulos ranged from a change of the base of the negotiations to withdrawal of proposals previously submitted by the Greek Cypriot side and a new negotiations approach. He further suggested drawing benefit from the hydrocarbons, fighting the upgrading of the Turkish Cypriot UDI, strengthening the National Guard and even renegotiating the status of British bases on the island.

In addition, Papadopoulos made proposals for restoring a modern welfare state, strengthening the economy and re-establishing the economic standing of the middle-class. In subsequent releases, he addressed specific issues, such as care for the elderly, protection of children’s rights, support to displaced since 1974 persons, new policies for agriculture and energy, the rights of animals and other. Some of his proposals in each chapter were in the form of long lists of measures and ideas.

Stavros Malas presented his proposals under the main slogan “tomorrow unites us” with the title ‘contract of hope and perspective’. He claimed that they were feasible, while his programme expressed a novel vision, for a distinct kind of Cyprus, that would address the needs of the large majority in society. International relations should be founded on the promotion of peace, cooperation and solidarity, with respect of international law and the UN Charter. For Europe, he proposed to work for more social justice, more democracy and for peace and cooperation. His proposals on the Cyprus Problem were founded on the general lines of Greek Cypriot positions, for a bi-zonal bicommunal federal solution, based on UN resolutions, the acquis communautaire and the international law. In economy, a model of a more balanced economic development should seek sustainable growth founded on factors such as investment in R&D, incentives to high-tech companies to establish in Cyprus, tax incentives to decentralise activity and many other. More safeguards for labour rights and opposition to the privatisation of semi-government public law enterprises and action for a more human-centred and expanding cooperative movement were proposals that distinguished to some extent Stavros Malas from other candidates. He put special emphasis on the need for a democratic and humanistic education, for the promotion of life quality and respect for the environment; he promised to promote a society of equal rights for all people and groups, solidarity, and a more efficient state to the benefit of the people; a fight against corruption should warrant the rule of law.

Malas and AKEL criticised Anastasiades as unreliable, not delivering what he had promised or committed himself to. Though they considered the Turkish side responsible for the impasse on the Cyprus Problem, they also laid the blame on the President for the way he had handled the Issue; by putting forward pre-conditions he had not helped the resumption of negotiations, they said. Despite the above criticisms, Malas’ main emphasis during the campaign was on promoting his own proposals than accusing the opponent.

Malas presented himself as an independent candidate, though he announced his candidacy after failure of AKEL to nominate another candidate. Officials and cadres of AKEL formed his campaign team and his positions did not differ from those of the party.

George Lillikas attempted to present his candidacy as a follow up of his good performance in 2013, when he received 25% of the vote. He positioned himself against a bi-zonal bicommunal federal solution because this would legalise the results of the Turkish invasion and occupation of part of the island. Lillikas’ proposals covered a large number of issues, presented as daily public statements, with a central slogan “The safe choice” and “a changing Cyprus”. Despite been supported by his own party alone, with key officials having deserted him, he kept insisting that his performance would surprise the people.

Christos Christou, the candidate of the extreme right ELAM, ran under the slogan “This land has a voice” and as the candidate that differed from the rest. Some of his arguments echoed the usual nationalist rhetoric of the extreme right. Many of his proposals were in the form of statements on social, economic and other issues under the guise of a formation that cared for the people (of Greek origin). Members and deputies of the Golden Dawn of Greece were present and addressed his public meetings. Messages from the leader of Golden Dawn were also read in the gatherings.

The rest of candidates presented themselves as fighting against a corrupted establishment. The only benefit expected was media attention and some publicity, as they could only secure some hundreds votes.

In order to avoid the election day to be on the day of the carnival, it was decided to move it to 28 January 2018, with the by-election taking place one week later.

The results came as a small surprise, with Nicholas Papadopoulos receiving a relatively low percentage and excluded from the second round, while Nicos Anastasiades received a much lower number of votes than in 2013. Stavros Malas qualified for the second round to face Nicos Anastasiades in a contest that looked like a replay of the 2013 presidential election. Nicholas Papadopoulos and the parties that supported him took position against both candidates, favoring the abstention of their voters.

In confirmation of the trend for lower voter turnout in each election, the abstention rate hit 28% in the first round, almost 12 points higher than in 2013.

Nicos Anastasiades won the election and a second term as President of the Republic, with one and a half points lower share than in 2013.

The abstention rate decreased by two points compared to the first round, but was increased by 7.5 points compared to 2013. It is noted that in contrast to 2018, the abstention rate in the second round of 2013 had increased.