Widely tapped as a favourite even before last Sunday’s first round of voting, he is seen as an independent backed by centrist parties that take a hard line on moribund UN-backed talks on ending the island’s decades-old division.
His candidature sparked a schism within the conservative ruling DISY party, whose candidate Averof Neofytou was booted out of the race after coming in third place in the first round — a first in the party’s history.
It is the first time a president has been elected without the support of the two largest parties, DISY and the communist AKEL, and after his victory was announced, Christodoulides said he wanted to meet with the leaders of both.
“The need to form a government of broad social acceptance was not a pre-election slogan, it was something that we will implement in practice”, Christodoulides said.
He will take up his post on March 1.
– Hawkish on peace talks –
Christodoulides served as government spokesman then foreign minister under outgoing President Nicos Anastasiades, but quit as minister last June to enter the race.
Christodoulides later found himself in the uncomfortable position of wooing votes from DISY, after Neofytou failed to make the run-off.
DISY would usually be expected to urge its supporters to vote against a communist-backed candidate, but Christodoulides is despised by many in the party as a “traitor” who put personal ambition over the interests of the party and the island.
With a doctorate in political science from the University of Athens, the career politician has also studied in Malta and New York.
He launched his diplomatic career in 1999, climbing up the ranks until he became foreign minister in 2018.
He previously considered that the main problems facing the Cypriot electorate were “the cost of living and housing, immigration and the Cyprus problem”, referring to the island’s division.
Talks have been in deep freeze since 2017 to resolve the division that resulted from Turkey’s 1974 invasion and occupation of the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-sponsored coup.
Christodoulides has long taken a hawkish stance on peace talks.
He has moreover said he is open to forming alliances with extreme-right parties such as ELAM, ultra-nationalists who came in fourth place with six percent of the vote.
– Tackling corruption –
Christodoulides has also vowed a “zero-tolerance” approach to corruption as the island continues to deal with the fall-out from a cash-for-passports scandal that plagued the previous administration.
Despite having been foreign minister in that cabinet, he managed to escape untainted by the scandal.
He ruffled feathers in September 2020 by blocking a European Union plan to sanction Belarus, saying Cyprus would only agree if the bloc also sanctioned Turkey.
The former foreign minister also failed to take a clear stance on sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, earning him criticism for his so-called pro-Moscow position.
Cyprus has for decades been home to a sizeable population of Russians.
Another key issue that Christodoulides has vowed to tackle is the topic of migration on the island, where six percent of the 915,000 people living in the south are asylum seekers.
Cyprus is second only to Austria in terms of having the highest proportion of first-time asylum seekers across the EU.
The new president has vowed faster processing times for asylum applications, with a target of 3,000 cases per month.