Opposition candidate ahead in Cyprus presidential race - poll

NICOSIA Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:56am GMT

Cyprus' presidential race's forerunner and president of the right-wing Democratic Rally party Nicos Anastasiades looks on before the meeting of European People's Party (EPP) summit in the Cypriot town of Limassol January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Cyprus' presidential race's forerunner and president of the right-wing Democratic Rally party Nicos Anastasiades looks on before the meeting of European People's Party (EPP) summit in the Cypriot town of Limassol January 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jamal Saidi

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - The main opposition candidate, Nicos Anastasiades of the right-wing Democratic Rally Party, is leading the race to become Cyprus's president, an opinion poll showed on Friday, as 11 hopefuls submitted bids for the February 17 election.

The winner of the vote, which may extend to a run-off on February 24, will be mandated to negotiate with prospective lenders for a multi-billion-euro bailout for the island.

Damaged by its exposure to Greece, Cyprus applied for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union last year.

It is estimated that Cyprus needs up to 17.5 billion euros to recapitalise its banks and put the economy back on a stable footing. That amount is equal to the entire output of the Cypriot economy, meaning any bailout may not be sustainable.

"Our manifesto offers hope and prospects for the country through a national unity government," said Anastasiades, running more than 10 points clear of his closest rival according to the latest opinion poll.

In the survey for the state broadcaster, Anastasiades polled 38 percent compared with 23.7 percent for Stavros Malas, an independent backed by the now-ruling Communist party AKEL, and 19.7 percent for independent candidate George Lillikas.

Incumbent President Demetris Christofias, a communist whose tenure has seen economic demise and record-high unemployment at 14 percent, is not seeking re-election.

Conclusion of a bailout deal with lenders is awaiting the calculation of the precise recapitalisation needs of Cypriot banks. Talks have also been overshadowed by concerns from some European nations, notably EU paymaster Germany, of an opaque banking system which may encourage money laundering.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, in Cyprus last week to lend support to Anastasiades's bid, said the island must move ahead with reforms.

Cyprus has a presidential system of government where the head of state wields executive power. Only people residing in the southern two-thirds of Cyprus vote. The northern part is a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state recognised only by Ankara.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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