Cyprus, one of the rare democracies in this part of the world, is choosing its president this weekend. For weeks this island, the size of Puerto Rico, has been awash in colorful posters of candidates and ideologies. While campaigns have been waged with great fervor, they have been peaceful - testimony to the law and order that reign in a country with a troubled history, situated in the troubled Mediterranean-Middle East region.
Although accusations of communist and facist connections have flown back and forth, it seems unlikely that whoever governs Cyprus for the next five years will swerve the country radically left or right, or upset the peace that exists with the Turkish Cypriot population on the Island's north.
Presidential front-runners are encumbent Spyros Kyprianou and challenger Glafcos Clerides. Mr. Kyprianou's small centrist party is allied with the powerful communist AKEL Party. Mr. Clerides heads the center-right Democratic Rally Party. A third candidate, Dr. Vassos Lyssarides, represents socialists. Kyprianou is expected to poll a plurality, followed by Clerides. Should a runoff be necessary Clerides says he plans to seek Lyssarides' votes.
His critics have connected Clerides with rightist activities that preceded a 1974 coup against the revered first president, Archbishop Makarios. That coup, in turn, served as the pretext for a long-threatened Turkish invasion.
But Clerides, noted for his personal friendship with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, was instrumental in working out a separation-of-population agreement that divided the island into Greek and Turkish zones following the 1974 invasion. This ended the intercommunal violence that had ravaged Cyprus since it won independence from Britain in 1960.
''I am probably the only politician in Cyprus who has declared that we made cardinal errors in our handling of the Turkish Cypriot minority in 1963,'' Clerides said.
Especially erroneous, he said, were economic strictures imposed on the Turks and attempts to amend the constitution to alter the balance of power between the two ethno-religious groups. Greeks constitute 80 percent of the island's population, while the Turks make up 20 percent.
Clerides sees the current intercommunal talks under the auspices of the United Nations as inadequate for a lasting accommodation with the Turkish community. He suggests direct talks with Turkish Cypriots and peacemaking by Western powers.
Kyprianou and AKEL support the UN-sponsored negotiations. During his presidency, Kyprianou has kept peace with the Turks and enforced a strict diplomatic and economic boycott of the Turkish northern section of the island. Simultaneously, the Greek south, largely because of inordinately high quantities of Western aid, has recovered rapidly from the Turkish invasion, modernized, and prospered. Under Kyprianou, Cyprus has been a leader in the nonaligned movement and active in the British commonwealth.