ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Northern Cyprus voters cast ballots in masks and gloves on Sunday in a presidential election where incumbent Mustafa Akinci and Premier Ersin Tatar were favourites among 11 candidates in the breakaway region of the Mediterranean island.
Polls suggested Akinci and Tatar would lead the vote and go to a runoff next Sunday, where measures would again be in place to curb the risk of coronavirus infection.
With a population of 326,000, Northern Cyprus has reported 807 COVID-19 infections and four deaths.
Cyprus was split in two after a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Akinci, 72, a career politician who won the presidency in 2015 in a second round with more than 60% of votes, supports reunification of the island. Tatar, 60, who has also served as finance minister, supports separate sovereign administrations.
Turkey recognises the Turkish Cypriot state in the north, but not the internationally-endorsed Greek Cypriot government on the other side of the divided island.
The latest United Nations-mediated peace negotiations failed in 2017 and there has been no progress in talks since.
On Thursday, Northern Cyprus reopened part of the beachfront of a resort abandoned for 46 years in a move that could hurt efforts to revive dispute settlement talks.
Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus’s internationally recognised president, called the move “illegal”.
As well as having an impact on inter-island talks, the result of North Cyprus’ election may influence negotiations between Turkey and Greece over their contested maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean.
Reporting by Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne