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Cyprus rightwing leader Nicos Anastasiades, who favours a bailout for the crisis-hit Eurozone member, will win a presidential run-off on Sunday despite a setback in the first round of voting, experts say.
Media commentators and political analysts expect horse trading to begin in earnest from Monday after Anastasiades, the frontrunner, failed to reach the magical 50 percent threshold to clinch the Mediterranean island's election.
Anastasiades won 45.46 percent of the votes in Sunday's election, ahead of Akel communist party-backed Stavros Malas who clinched 26.91.
Exit polls had shown Anastasiades with more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round but the official results said otherwise.
All the numbers add up in favour of Disy opposition leader Anastasiades, said political analyst Alexandros Lordos.
"There isn't a question mark over who is going to win; it will be a clear Anastasiades victory," Lordos told AFP.
Both Anastasiades and Malas will be looking to woo former foreign minister George Lillikas who came third with 24.93 percent for support in the February 24 runoff.
New kingmaker Lillikas is backed by socialist Edek party and voters who backed him at the weekend will either stay at home or vote for Anastasiades in the next round, Lordos said.
"Malas doesn't have many more votes to gain; the most he can get up to is 40 percent. It will be an easy victory for Anastasiades."
Rightwing Simerini daily agreed: "Anastasiades is the favourite but Edek and Lillikas are the regulators," it said on Monday.
The paper said the Disy camp will now focus on voters who deserted them such as the rank-and-file of centre-right Diko -- the country's third largest party which endorsed Anastasiades' candidature.
Independent Politis newspaper said Anastasiades and Malas are reluctant to bargain with Lillikas as it could alienate their core supporters.
Mass selling daily Phileleftheros said the vote showed that Cypriots were still unsure about who is best suited to lead them out of financial crisis but agreed Anastasiades held the advantage.
Lillikas himself, who was once elected to parliament on the AKEL ticket in 1998 before an acrimonious split, was non-committal on Sunday about who he would support.
But Malas, who has argued for "softer" austerity measures, signalled he was ready to join forces with his fellow anti-austerity crusader.
"We have a lot in common with those who supported George Lillikas," said the 47-year-old British-educated Malas.
The election is seen as one of the most crucial since independence, and unlike previous polls on the normally affluent but divided island it focused on the economy rather than reunification efforts.
Anastasiades, 66, had called for a winning mandate from the first round to concentrate immediately on securing a bailout to save the island's Greek-exposed banks and economy which is teetering on bankruptcy.
He is seen as someone the Europe Union can do business with, while his stance on ending the four-decade division between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is more flexible than that of his rivals.
President Demetris Christofias sought a bailout in June, and talks dragged on as the outgoing leader, who did not stand for re-election, resisted measures including privatisation and reopened talks with Russia on a top-up loan.
The European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are awaiting the election result before offering the terms for a 17-billion-euro ($23-billion) lifeline.
On the political front, the international community will also expect the next Cypriot president who will serve for a five-year term, to pick up the pieces of a deadlocked UN push for peace.
Cyprus, which gained independence from Britain in 1960, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island and Greece.