ALL EYES will be on Paphos tonight for the first election result in a campaign which will see the largest number of voters ever going to the polls.
With 18-year-olds voting for the first time, some 450,000 people are eligible to select the next president of Cyprus.
It is also the most hotly contested presidential election since independence, with a record seven candidates vying for the backing of the electorate.
As a result, campaign managers have been working round the clock to ensure that as many Cypriots living or studying abroad are flown back home to vote.
President Clerides only won by a slender 2,000-vote margin in 1993, which many believe was partly due to Disy getting more overseas students than its rivals to return and vote.
Some 10,000 Cypriots living abroad are expected to arrive in order to cast their vote, with the majority expected back for - the more than likely - second round next Sunday.
Cyprus Airways have put on 35 extra flights to bring back students, mainly from England and Greece.
The frontrunners are incumbent president Glafcos Clerides, 78, and independent candidate George Iacovou, 59, who is backed by Akel and Diko.
Edek's Vassos Lyssarides, 77, seems to be leading the chasing pack, followed by Diko rebel Alexis Galanos, 57, and former president George Vassiliou, 66.
These three are looking to collect anything from between five and ten per cent of the vote in order to drive a hard bargain in the pre-second round trade-off.
Minor party leaders Nicos Koutsou, 53, of New Horizons and Liberal boss Nicos Rolandis, 63, are not expected to get more than two per cent of the vote.
Polling stations will be open today from 7am to 5pm. Of the 1,023 stations, some of the smaller ones in Paphos (with just 50 voters) are expect to produce the first indication of how the vote will go.
According to electoral services, the first result is expected at around 7pm, with a string of results coming from the Paphos district until 7.30pm.
Ballots should then come in from Larnaca and Famagusta. Results from Nicosia and Limassol (which have polling centres of more than 500 voters) are expected much later.
As the smallest district, Famagusta is expected to have all its votes counted before the rest, at around 9pm.
Final counts will then follow in Paphos, Larnaca, Limassol and Nicosia respectively.
It is understood the Conference Centre in Nicosia will issue the overall result just after midnight.
TURKISH Cypriots living in the government-controlled areas are bitter at being the only indigenous minority on the island not allowed to vote in today's presidential elections.
Under the 1960 constitution, Turkish Cypriots are only allowed to vote for a vice-president, a position that no longer exists since the Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the government in 1963.
Since then, not a single Turkish Cypriot has voted in the government- controlled areas, although several hundred remained here after the 1974 invasion which divided the island.
At the same time, other recognised minorities such as the Maronites and the Armenians, who number several thousand, are entitled to vote in the elections.
Reports earlier in the week suggested Turkish Cypriots living in the north were indifferent to the outcome of the elections, but those who live here are very concerned, and feel bitter at not being allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice.
"I'm 60 years old now and I have never voted in my life. That's my real complaint," said Turkish Cypriot political analyst Ibrahim Aziz, who lives in Nicosia.
"When certain events shape your country, you are a citizen with supposedly equal rights, but when one of your most basic rights is denied - the right to vote - you can't help but feel sadness. This is my personal view, but I believe others feel the same way."
Another Turkish Cypriot who did not wish to be named said he too had an interest in the elections. "Everybody has a preference for who he would like to vote, but I don't have the right to choose mine," the Turkish Cypriot man said.
Niazi Kizilyurek, professor at the Turkish Studies Department of the Cyprus University, said he believed most Turkish Cypriots were concerned about the developments for a solution to the Cyprus problem.
"It's a very fragile time and the process towards the EU will be very crucial," Kizilyurek said. "It's very important to handle it sensitively."
He added any new president would have to provide a clear policy and real progress on the issue to include Turkish Cypriots.
Aziz, who is also president of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot New Cyprus Association, said he believed all of the seven candidates "in their way" acknowledged the role of the Turkish Cypriot community in the search for a Cyprus solution.
"We want a president who takes them into account and who will develop a policy which will persuade and bring Turkish Cypriots within the Cyprus Republic," Aziz said.
He said as an organisation, the New Cyprus Association had spoken to all the candidates about the lack of voting rights for Turkish Cypriots, but conceded that the issue was a constitutional one.
Aziz himself said that, if he could vote, he would opt for the policy rather than the personality of the candidate.
But he is disappointed at the way in which the campaigns have developed: "There should have been an effort to find internal unity in the face of the increasing interest of the international community," Aziz said.
As things stand, he felt that the opposition should have set aside their divisions and stood behind Clerides.
"Unfortunately, this has not happened and we have entered an election campaign of a low standard and a divided front, which is not the best state of affairs in view of Ankara's rejectionist policies which are continually getting tougher."
Aziz believes that, ideally, former president George Vassiliou would have been the best candidate to unite left and right.
"He would have been the best choice and with a little effort this could have been achieved," Aziz said.
As other Cypriots vote today, Aziz and his fellow Turkish Cypriots who have opted to stay in the government-controlled areas can but look on from the sidelines, a situation unlikely to change in the near future if a senior official at the election service is to be believed: "When Turkey gets away from Cyprus and gives us our freedom, then Turkish Cypriots can vote."
THE ISLAND'S high-flying army of 44 stockbrokers has recently been watching more than just prices on the electronic screens of their high-tech trading floor in central Nicosia.
Looming large over their daily 90-minute game of selling and buying is the crucial question of who will be the presidential palace's next occupant.
As nearly 450,000 Cypriots head to the polls today to chose the island's president for the next five years, stockbrokers are only too aware that the outcome could be the difference between their market being consigned forever to a small-time affair or becoming a vibrant and busy one with a high-level of domestic and international participation.
Most stockbrokers contacted by the Cyprus Mail would not name their favourite candidate. Some, however, made no secret of their conviction that the incumbent, Glafcos Clerides, was The Man.
These pro-Clerides sentiments might have been reinforced when his government last month announced a package of market-related incentives of tax breaks which, if approved by parliament later this year, would go far in attracting more investors and persuading more companies on the island to list on the fledgling market.
The 78-year-old Clerides is backed by the right-wing Democratic Rally party which he founded and, like all parties of its ideological persuasion, is traditionally supported by the business community.
"There is a feeling in the market that Clerides will be re-elected and his promise of a government of wider acceptability will have a positive impact on the market if it happens," said Louis Clappas, a prominent stockbroker who is also the head of the Stockbrokers Association.
"The recent measures to boost the market are just the beginning," said Clappas, who expects share prices to rise considerably in the week after the widely-expected February 15 runoff between Clerides and his main rival George Iacovou. Neither man, or the five other candidates in the race, are expected to win more than 50 per cent of the vote in today's balloting.
The Cyprus Stock Exchange, capitalised at more than $2 billion and trading in 98 securities from 46 listed companies, is a showpiece of the island's progress toward a market economy. Like all other bourses in developed economies, its performance gauges the state of the economy, investors' confidence and the political climate.
"I can safely say that the poor performance of the market in the past 18 months or so has little to do with the economy but is rather a result of political uncertainties," said Stavros Agrotis, a senior stockbroker with CISCO, a leading brokerage that is part of the Bank of Cyprus Group.
Citing events that had negatively affected the market, Agrotis and other brokers mentioned the buffer-zone killings in August 1996, Turkey's sabre- rattling after the government announcement in January 1997 of a deal to buy Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Turkish military exercises on the island.
"People got afraid and disappeared," was how Christos Samaras of Starinvest Ltd, a Nicosia-based brokerage, described investors' reaction to these events.
"I don't altogether dismiss the economic factor (on the market), but for any Cypriot the most important thing is the political factor," added CISCO's Agrotis.
The 59-year-old Iacovou is a former Foreign Minister who enjoys the support of the communist Akel and centre-right Diko parties, which represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, a fact which has undermined his credibility in the business community.
Some of his credibility problems with that community are of his own making. He has said during the campaign that he intends to inject £30 million to pluck Cyprus Airways, the island's troubled national carrier, out of the red.
The company is 80 per cent owned by the government, while the remainder is held by private investors.
"Now, that is a bit scary," commented one stockbroker, who did not want to be named, on Iacovou's plan for the ailing Cyprus Airways.
Interestingly, not many stockbrokers are willing to point an accusing finger at the Clerides' government for the upheavals of 1997, which saw the market lose nearly six per cent of its value. Instead, most are looking forward to a 1998 which promises a wide range of reforms to accompany the progress of EU accession talks starting in April.
Some expressed the hope that Clerides, if re-elected, would introduce the more painful reforms in the first 12 months of his new term in office.
"It is easier then and it exploits the traditional post-election euphoria," said one stockbroker.
Feeding market hopes for a second Clerides term are reports that the Central Bank has already drawn a list of liberalisation measures covering interest rates, the flow of capital and foreign investment in addition to steps to cushion their impact on the economy.
There are also rumours doing the rounds on the market that former president and noted economist George Vassiliou might have a say in how the economy is run in a Clerides administration.
"As an ex-president he cannot be finance minister and cannot have the role of an economic supremo. But he may have the final say in choosing the next finance minister in return for his party's votes in the second round," said a senior economist attached to one of the island's leading banks.
Clerides himself has further endeared himself to the business community when his government forecast improved indicators for 1998, with GDP growth expected to be 4.5 per cent. Tourism, the economy's backbone, was expected to sustain the dramatic recovery it began last May and inflation and unemployment to remain in the neighbourhood of a manageable three per cent.
Turning to immediate prospects in the bourse, Samaras of Starinvest said: "The clever ones will enter the market on Monday February 16 when an upward movement in prices will start - first in the banking sector and later in all other sectors."
A word of caution, however, came from stockbroker Costas Anastasides of Laiki Investment, a brokerage that is part of the Popular Bank Group.
"Whether there will be a boost in prices after the election depends on the result," he said.
THE BATTLE for viewers during today's first round of the elections looks to be as closely-fought as the race for the presidency itself, as TV stations square up to grab their slice of those eager for up-to-the-minute coverage.
For the first time this year, coverage will include internet-based reporting. Two stations, Logos and CyBC, are using the fact that they will be posting figures on the web as a selling point.
, which is also a net service provider and will be working in conjunction with the PIO, plans to post the latest updates on its web-page as soon as they come in. CyBC, meanwhile, will link up with Cyprus website , running details on both this site and its own.
CyBC is also the only channel which will be beaming news of the elections abroad via its satellite link-up. During the latter part of the day, this will all be topped off with live links from the various parties' headquarters, something Logos is also planning.
The state-owned company will also monopolise the non-Greek speaking audience, as its second TV channel will carry reports throughout the day in Turkish and English, in the form of bulletins and announcements.
CyBC is also the only channel which plans to broadcast continuously throughout the day, from 8am until 1am Monday.
The other channels will all start their coverage half an hour later, with the exception of Antenna and Sigma. Sigma, will open with a light discussion programme hosted by Katerina Vati, the only woman to front a discussion show on any of the channels.
Sigma News Director Vivienne Ladommatou told the Cyprus Mail that Sigma's coverage would hinge on its objectivity and creativity. "We hope to be entertainment rather than just information," she said. However, the station won't be vying with CyBC2 for the English-speaking viewer, as there will be no coverage on the day from the recently-launched Sigma International.
Sigma's coverage will break off at around 1pm, and resume approximately four hours later with heavier discussion and analysis, plus live link-ups with polling stations. The programme will carry through until the results are announced.
This seems to be by far the most popular format: all stations are planning studio or panel discussions for the morning, followed by live links, coverage of the candidates voting, and studio analysis by specialists. Interior Ministry Official Thanos Michael will appear on both Logos and Antenna. All channels also intend showing interviews either with the candidates themselves, or party representatives.
Antenna will provide live coverage from voting centres, but is relying on its reputation for thorough news coverage to win viewers. For news director George Tsalakos, "public opinion is conscious that Antenna will give a high level of coverage."
However, only one rebel, pay TV station Lumiere, will be catering to those uninterested in the political goings-on. Neither LTV, nor its newer sibling Alpha, will carry any news, bulletins or information relating to the elections all day.
Lumiere's Loulli Michaelidou said news bulletins on Alpha, which is currently running test transmissions and not a finalised schedule, will not appear until next week at the earliest.
The LTV discussion programme Honourable Sir, which has featured all the candidates over the past few weeks, does not run on Sundays.
And reports say he is also considering the seizure of all Cyprus pound bank deposits in the north.
According to yesterday's Turkish Cypriot press, the call was answered by seven people who came in person to hand their Republic passports to the Turkish Cypriot leader.
Kibris quotes Denktash as saying certain lawyers who had been involved in obtaining Cyprus passports had visited him and explained they had only become involved in handling cases because of a loophole in the law, which Denktash promised to close.
Denktash also blasted New Cyprus Party leader Alpay Durduran for allegedly holding a Cyprus Republic passport and for criticising the regime.
He questioned whether in these circumstances Durduran should be the leader of a Turkish Cypriot political party at all.
Another Turkish Cypriot newspaper, Avrupa, meanwhile quoted "reliable sources" as saying that, following the "passport operation", the Denktash regime was now preparing to confiscate bank accounts containing Cyprus pounds as they had done in 1976.
The paper said that "just like in 1976, the view that using Cyprus pounds amounts to recognising the Greek Cypriot administration as the Republic of Cyprus is gaining weight."
According to Turkish Cypriot press reports, Andonietta Vassili, 48, has been detained on suspicion of trying to smuggle icons to the free areas.
She was stopped by Turkish Cypriot 'police' at the Ledra Palace checkpoint on Thursday while trying to cross with an icon of Saint John, the reports say.
A search of the couple's house in occupied Kormakitis allegedly uncovered another icon, that of Saint Charalambous.
Andonietta's husband, Adonis, was arrested later the same day on returning from the south.
Both have been charged with smuggling icons and banned from leaving the occupied areas.
Police said the thieves came tooled up for a professional bank raid, but after forcing their way in were unable to crack the safes open despite drilling numerous holes; as a consolation, they decided to leave with a memento.
Nicosia CID said this was only one example of a "thieving spree" which had engulfed the capital in the last two weeks.
In that time, two safes have been burgled to the tune of £23,000, two shops have had electrical goods stolen worth £12,000 and a large retail outlet has had clothes taken valued at £11,500.