NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Conservative candidate Nicos Anastasiades won Cyprus' presidency Sunday by one of the widest margins in 30 years, promising to do what it takes to quickly secure a financial rescue package from international creditors and prevent the country from sliding into economic oblivion.
Anastasiades, 66, won the runoff election with 57.48 percent of the vote, well ahead of left-wing rival Stavros Malas, who nabbed 42.51 percent, final results showed.
The election comes as Cyprus is negotiating a much-needed bailout with the eurozone's other 16 countries and the International Monetary Fund. The wide margin of victory in favor of Anastasiades indicates Cypriots are prepared, to a degree, to stomach what could be painful austerity measures attached to a bailout, as well as a snub to left-wing rule that many feel is responsible for the country's sorry economic state.
Anastasiades, who takes office March 1 for a five-year-term, promised to create a government of "national unity" though it was unclear what its composition would be.
"My first priority is to reinstate Cyprus' credibility," Anastasiades said in a speech after his victory. "I'm determined to work together with our EU partners, and at the same time, fulfill our responsibilities to the utmost. I am committed to making all the necessary measures to steer our country out of the economic crisis."
He added that he would move quickly to tap the country's newfound offshore natural gas deposits and apply to NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which allows for cooperation between the military alliance and non-member countries.
Most Cypriots are aware that there's little option but to secure outside financial help — which will undoubtedly come with demands for public sector spending cuts and other austerity measures — to end the uncertainty dragging down the economy. Cyprus has already enacted deep public sector wage cuts and tax hikes under a preliminary bailout agreement.
As election results trickled in, hundreds of Anastasiades' supporters poured into the streets of the capital, Nicosia, in celebration, honking horns and waving flags.
The new president will face a tough battle convincing reluctant countries, especially Europe's economic powerhouse Germany, that tiny Cyprus deserves help after its banks lost billions of euros on bad Greek debt.
"My government of national unity will make all the necessary structural reforms and, through dialogue with our European and international partners, will safeguard the longstanding strengths of our economy and serve the desired goal of growth and jobs," Anastasiades said.
His defeated rival said the new president could count on his support if his actions were deemed to be beneficial for Cyprus.
"We will stand by the new president if we assess his actions and policies to be for the good of the country because the unity of our people is what's most important right now," Malas said as he conceded the election. "At the same time, we will be strong critics of whichever actions and decisions that we deem not to serve the country's best interests."
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