UPDATE – Cyprus ruling conservatives hold slim lead in parliamentary poll

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 Cyprus’s ruling conservatives appeared to hold a slim lead in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, an exit poll by state TV showed after the end of voting.

The country has faced a string of corruption scandals in recent years, and Sunday’s vote was expected to show a drop in support for major parties. Cyprus was left reeling from a cash-for-passports scheme that the current administration had to abandon amid allegations of corruption.

The election will test the popularity of the administration ahead of its own reckoning with voters in 2023. The island has an executive system of government. President Nicos Anastasiades of the right-wing Democratic Rally party is in his second five-year term.

Among the parties, his right-wing Democratic Rally was expected to attract between 24-28 % of the vote, followed by Communist AKEL polling between 23-27%, the exit poll shown by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation said. It was based on 75% of 3,200 exit poll respondents being counted.

The centrist Democratic Party was seen taking between 9.5% and 12%.

Government data on participation showed that 63.9% of the electorate voted, leaving an abstention rate of about 36%. The abstention rate hit a high of 33.6% during the last elections in 2016.

“The protest vote might be the largest segment of voters but it has no single party or single figure around which they would rally their protests, and in Cyprus traditionally the protest vote goes in the direction of non-voting or invalid votes,” said Hubert Faustmann, Professor of History and Politics at the University of Nicosia.

Parliamentary elections are held every five years.

The exit poll showed ELAM, an extreme right-wing party that had affiliations with the now-outlawed Golden Dawn of Greece, taking between 5-7% of the vote, almost doubling its support from 2016, when it first elected two MPs to parliament.

The Greens party, fielding a diverse group of mainly young candidates, was seen at between 4-6%, also up on 2016.

Sunday’s voting was held in the government-controlled areas of Cyprus. The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup. A breakaway state in north Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, has its own electoral processes. (Reporting by Michele Kambas Editing by David Holmes, William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Jane Merriman)