Voters in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus cast their votes for a new president on Sunday. The new leader will then be tasked with representing them in reunification talks on the divided island.
Polling stations opened in the north of the divided island at 8:00 a.m. local time (0500 UTC), with about 176,000 people eligible to vote in northern Cyprus, which constitutes almost one third of the Mediterranean island and is only recognized by Turkey. The polls shut by 6 p.m. local time, with unofficial results not expected until several hours later.
Opinion polls put incumbent Dervis Eroglu in the lead ahead of the six other candidates, but the conservative is not tipped to win the required 50 percent of vote in Sunday's first round, paving the way for a run-off election with his nearest rival on April 26.
Sunday's election will determine who sits opposite Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in talks to help re-unify the divided island which are expected to resume next month.
Only Turkey recognizes northern Cyprus as an independent state and Ankara funds one-third of its annual budget. The international community recognizes the Greek Cypriot government as the whole island's legitimate government.
"Presidential elections have always given a clear indication of the Turkish Cypriot community's view on the Cyprus problem. This time however it might be different," sociologist Kudret Akay said.
"In recent years the Turkish Cypriots' attitude has hardened as a result of perceived Greek Cypriot intransigence in negotiations, a view most closely represented by Dervis Eroglu," he added.
Just after casting his vote at a polling station in Nicosia, 47-year-old Halil Davulcu told reporters that, "nobody recognizes Turkish Cypriot identity, there is a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but nobody recognizes it.
"Maybe if this problem is solved then our identity will become known," Davulcu added.
Aside from Eroglu, Sibel Siber, the sole female candidate, head of parliament and former prime minister and independent Mustafa Akinci, are the incumbent's main challengers.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 after a Turkish military invasion, which followed a short-lived Greek-inspired coup. About 1,000 peacekeepers monitor a ceasefire line that divides Nicosia, Europe's last divided capital.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 still a divided island, and although the north is technically a member of the bloc, Turkish Cypriots are denied almost all the rights and responsibilities associated with EU membership.
Preliminary election results are expected on Sunday night.
jlw/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)