NICOSIA (Reuters) - Fourteen candidates formally joined the race on Thursday to become Cyprus's next president in an election next month dominated by the island's decades-old division, irregular migration and corruption scandals.
Cyprus has a presidential system of government and the head of state has wide executive powers.
Opinion polls show Nikos Christodoulides, a former foreign minister, firmly in the lead. Barring a major upset, he will fall short of the 50% threshold in the first round on Feb. 5, leading to a runoff on Feb. 12.
"My candidacy seeks to unite the Cypriot people and not divide it," Christodoulides, 49, told reporters after his nomination, pledging to form a broad-based administration if elected.
Cyprus, with 561,000 registered voters, is a small island with a big problem; it was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek inspired coup, and remains a key source of tension between NATO members Greece and Turkey.
All leading candidates in the election have pledged to push for a resumption of peace talks which collapsed in 2017.
Christodoulides's backers, the centrist DIKO and the socialist EDEK party, have historically taken a harder line than other groupings.
As well as the island's division, voters are concerned about a cash-for-passports scandal, in which thousands of wealthy foreigners acquired Cypriot citizenship, and about irregular migration, which has put a strain on public resources.
Christodoulides served in the right-wing administration of the ruling Democratic Rally (DISY) party until Jan. 2022.
DISY is fielding its own candidate, Averof Neophytou, who is about 10 points behind Christodoulides in polls. He is marginally ahead of Andreas Mavroyiannis, an independent backed by the left-wing AKEL party.
Other candidates include Achilleas Demetriades, a lawyer who was instrumental in Cyprus changing its anti-gay laws at the European Court of Human Rights and achieving the first conviction of Turkey at the same court for violating the rights of a displaced Greek Cypriot.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones)