NICOSIA (AFP) — Communist party leader Demetris Christofias won the presidential election in Cyprus on Sunday, a result set to give a major boost to efforts to reunify the island after 34 years of division.
Parliament speaker Christofias, 61, garnered 53.36 percent of the vote against 46.64 percent for conservative former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides, according to final results of an election billed by the local media as one of the most crucial in the history of Cyprus.
Christofias has pledged to renew contacts with the rival Turkish Cypriots in a bid to end the partition of the strategic eastern Mediterranean island after negotiations stalled under outgoing president Tassos Papadopoulos.
Kasoulides, a 59-year-old MEP who won the first round a week ago when voters dumped Papadopoulos, had conceded defeat shortly before the final results were known.
Crowds outside the Nicosia headquarters of Christofias's AKEL party were celebrating victory, waving Cyprus flags emblazoned with the logo "Just society" and shouting "AKEL, AKEL, AKEL" as car horns were blaring across the capital.
"We have a vision, we have a history of struggle and contact with the people in our efforts to reunify our country without foreign troops," Christofias said after casting his vote.
"At this time I want to send a message of friendship to ordinary Turkish Cypriots, a message of a common fight to reunite our homeland so we are in charge of our own affairs without foreign intervention."
Christofias's victory makes him the European Union's sole communist head of state and makes Cyprus the only European country with a communist president apart from ex-Soviet Moldova -- over 16 years after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece. However, a UN peacekeeping force has been deployed on the island ever since communal unrest first broke in 1963.
Christofias -- whose AKEL party is the largest in Cyprus -- was barely 1,000 votes behind Kasoulides in the first round, but had since won the endorsement of three smaller parties that had backed Papadopoulos.
Cyprus has no post of prime minister and executive power rests essentially with the president who is elected for a five-year term.
Intense horse-trading that led to Christofias's endorsement by the smaller parties means that he will have to share power with them as president.
Greek Cypriot media reported that the communist leader had promised the centre-right DIKO party of Papadopoulos three ministries including the foreign affairs portfolio and the socialist EDEK party two.
The deal is likely to limit his freedom of manoeuvre on the Cyprus problem as the two centre parties historically take a far less flexible approach than either AKEL or the right-wing DISY.
Christofias and Kasoulides alike vowed to accelerate negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots, which were deadlocked under Papadopoulos's leadership.
He led Greek Cypriots in voting down a UN reunification plan that was overwhelmingly endorsed by Turkish Cypriots in referendums in April 2004.
One month later a divided island joined the European Union and on January 1 Cyprus entered the eurozone.
About half a million Greek Cypriots were eligible to vote, along with some 400 Turkish Cypriots living in the government-run south of the island.
Cyprus hosts two large British military bases that house a string of super-sensitive listening posts that provide Western powers with intelligence on the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.