NICOSIA, Cyprus — Conservative candidate Nicos Anastasiades won Cyprus' presidency Sunday by one of the widest margins in 30 years, and now faces the formidable task of preventing the country from suffering a financial meltdown.
Anastasiades, 66, won the runoff election with 57.48 percent of the vote, far ahead of left-wing rival Stavros Malas, who nabbed 42.51 percent, final results showed.
The election comes as Cyprus is negotiating a financial rescue package with the eurozone's other 16 countries and the International Monetary Fund.
The wide margin of victory in favor of Anastasiades indicates Cypriots are prepared, to a degree, to stomach what could be painful austerity measures to reform the economy, as well as a snub to left-wing rule that many feel is responsible for the country's sorry economic state.
Most Cypriots are aware that there's little option but to secure outside financial help — which will undoubtedly come with demands for public sector spending cuts and other austerity measures — to end the uncertainty dragging the economy down. The country has already enacted deep public sector wage cuts and tax hikes under a preliminary bailout agreement.
Sunday's vote was "a clear and strong mandate for change and reforms to lift our country out of the vicious circle of crisis," Anastasiades spokesman Tasos Mitsopoulos said after exit polls showed his candidate had won the powerful presidency.
As results trickled in, Anastasiades' supporters celebrated outside his campaign headquarters in the capital, Nicosia, honking horns and waving flags.
The new president will face a tough battle convincing reluctant countries, especially Europe's economic powerhouse Germany, that tiny Cyprus deserves help after its banks lost billions of euros on bad Greek debt.
Anastasiades will let the world know that "we're determined to assume our responsibilities, restore Cyprus' credibility, fight to implement change and reform while demanding from our (EU) partners to stand in solidarity with us," Mitsopoulos added.
His defeated rival said the new president could count on his support if his actions were deemed to be beneficial for Cyprus.
"We will stand by the new president if we assess his actions and policies to be for the good of the country because the unity of our people is what's most important right now," Malas said as he conceded the election. "At the same time, we will be strong critics of whichever actions and decisions that we deem not to serve the country's best interests."
Anastasiades has capitalized on what many feel were five years of failed left-wing rule under outgoing President Dimitris Christofias and his communist-rooted AKEL party that caused Cyprus' sorry economic state.
Christofias was widely believed to have waited too long to respond to the crisis and to curb spending. He was also seen as dragging out negotiations with international creditors and missing the opportunity to secure a bailout earlier.
Anastasiades, who leads the main opposition Democratic Rally party, has boasted of his connections with Europe's center-right leaders and seeks to spend political capital he's built up over the years to convince Europe that Cyprus deserves help.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Anastasiades, saying Cypriots had given him "a strong mandate to implement his program of reform and to do what it takes to ensure fiscal and financial sustainability."
Barroso said he spoke to Anastasiades "and I have assured him that he can count on the continued commitment of the European Commission to assist Cyprus to overcome the challenges it faces."
Last year, Cyprus sought financial assistance of up to €17 billion ($22.7 billion), a sum roughly equivalent to its annual gross domestic product, which has raised concerns about whether the country would be able to pay back any loan. The country has been unable to borrow from international markets since mid-2011, and turned to long-time ally Russia for a €2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) loan to keep it afloat in 2012.
Cyprus, a divided island of around 1 million people in the far eastern end of the Mediterranean, is one of the smallest members of the 27-nation European Union and faces deep political and economic problems.
Cyprus is divided into a breakaway Turkish-Cypriot north and an internationally-recognized Greek-Cypriot south after a 1974 Turkish invasion sparked by a coup in favor of uniting the island with Greece. Nicosia is the world's last divided capital.
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