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NICOSIA, Cyprus – It's Round Two for Cypriot President Nicos Anastiasades and his leftist challenger, Nicos Malas, who will battle it out in Sunday's presidential runoff. It's a repeat of five years ago, when Anastasiades trounced Malas, riding a wave of voter anger over a near economic meltdown many blamed on the errors of the previous president, whose communist-rooted party AKEL backed Malas' candidacy.
Five years later, Malas, 50, is hoping to turn the tables on Anastasiades, 71, presenting himself as the youthful leader who'll give crisis-squeezed households a break. But earlier opinion polls showed he faces tough odds. Here's a brief look at the two candidates:
Malas grew up in Paphos where his family moved after fleeing their village of Ayios Sergios in 1974 when Turkey's invasion split Cyprus along ethnic lines. He earned a doctorate in genetics from University College in London and later worked as a researcher. After 14 years in the U.K., he moved with his wife and four children to Cyprus in 2001 and continued his work at the Cyprus Institute of Genetics and Research.
His involvement in the country's politics started in 2011 when he was appointed health minister in the administration of President Demetris Christofias. He resigned his post in October 2012 when he decided to run for the presidency.
He managed to achieve 43 percent of the vote in the 2013 runoff with Anastasiades, a respectable number given the strong public backlash against the Christofias government.
Malas' appeal is that he's a relative outsider who's not a product of Cyprus' political machine that many voters — particularly younger ones — derisively view as corrupt and ineffectual. A mild-mannered politician, he's running as a straight-talking independent. His left-leaning, pro-welfare state policies resonate with many. But his relative inexperience showed through at the last televised debate when he was browbeaten by Anastasiades on the complex politics of the island's reunification talks.
Nicos Anastasiades has for decades been a mover and shaker on Cyprus' political scene. He has honed his political instincts as leader of Cyprus' second-largest political party, the right-wing Democratic Rally, over a 10-year tenure, having been re-elected five times. He was elected to parliament in 1981 and held a seat there until 2013 when he fulfilled his ultimate ambition of becoming president with a 57.4-percent share of the vote.
His lengthy leadership of parliamentary groups has allowed him to build a wide network of contacts with foreign political leaders, which his supporters say undergirds his skills at statesmanship. He credits his conservative, pro-business outlook for helping to turn the economy around after a 2013 economic crisis rivaled only by the economic contraction that ensued after the 1974 war.
Anastasiades is known for his short fuse, but he surrounds himself with capable counsellors and advisers who buff his image. Detractors accuse him of being short on credibility and saying whatever is politically expedient to achieve his aims.
Anastasiades studied law at the University of Athens and earned a post-graduate degree in maritime law from the University of London. He is married and has two daughters.
Some 550,000 people are eligible to vote. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (0500 to 1600 GMT), with results expected a couple of hours later.