Cypriots will determine their economic future on Sunday as they elect a president who will have to take responsibility for negotiating a financial rescue for the debt-laden island nation.
Cyprus' worst economic crisis in four decades has blown away the island's divided status as the main issue in this year's elections, which conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades is tipped to win.
Polls show Mr Anastasiades, the most pro-bailout figure among the main presidential contenders, has a 15-point lead over his closest leftist rival, Stavros Malas, but may not secure the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off a week later.
The quandary posed to just over half a million voters facing a grim economic future featured prominently in newspaper headlines. "The country has already entered a bleak era, and it is uphill from here," the daily Phileleftheros said in an editorial.
Mr Anastasiades has promised a quick agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund on a bailout, a deal investors want thrashed out before the island's troubles derail progress made in shoring up the rest of the euro zone's periphery.
Cyprus applied for a financial rescue in June last year after its banks suffered huge losses on the EU-approved write-down on neighbouring Greece's debt, but has so far failed to secure a package. The island, which has been shut out of international financial markets since May 2011, needs about €17bn in aid - a sum worth as much as its entire economy.
Nailing down a deal has proven tricky because almost any way of solving the crisis - from restructuring debt to slapping losses on banks - could set a precedent for other troubled states and hurt fragile confidence in financial markets.
The heavily indebted island has faced reluctance from European lenders on a rescue package due to the political damage that could ensue over chanelling taxpayers' money into a country popular as a tax haven with wealthy Russians, many of whom allegedly use it for money-laundering.
Eurozone finance ministers, who say they are discussing "all options" have vowed to strike a deal in March . They are believed to have tabled a controversial plan which would force losses on to uninsured bank depositors and investors in Cypriot government bonds while cutting sovereign debt by two-thirds.
Vassos Shiarly, the Cypriot finance minister, has played down the possibility of a so-called bail-in of depositors. “The bail-in of depositors is a grossly exaggerated possibility, unlikely to happen,” he said. “We will not accept it under any circumstances and I don’t think it creates any way forward.”
"Everything is at stake, like it has never been before," said Kyriakos Iacovides, publisher of the Cyprus Mail newspaper.
"The country must be rebuilt, Cyprus must be rehabilitated in the EU. We need a strong leadership to rebuild the country."
The last polls showed Mr Anastasiades with just over 40pc share of the vote, comfortably ahead of Communist-backed Malas and the other main challenger, independent George Lillikas.
"What we have are two weak candidates against a potentially unpopular figure. Mr Anastasiades is a polarising figure in Cypriot politics, respected but not necessarily liked," said Hubert Faustmann, an associate professor at the University of Nicosia.
"The economy has dominated, and this must be one of the dullest election campaigns I have ever seen. Somehow it hasn't electrified people, they could be jaded."
Anger at unemployment hitting a record high of 15pc has cast a pall over campaigning, where rival candidates have jockeyed to cast themselves as the best man to steer Cyprus through its troubles.
Mr Anastasiades has run on a slogan declaring "The crisis needs a leader," while Malas has retorted with a campaign proclaiming "The crisis needs a credible leader."
Reuniting the island after its division nearly 40 years ago into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north and the internationally recognized southern state run by Greek Cypriots has lagged far behind as an election issue.
Cypriots, still coming to grips with a cocktail of pay cuts, tax hikes and benefit cuts imposed last year in preparation for a bailout, have been little impressed with any of the rhetoric.
"Things will get better for Cyprus with a stronger leadership," said Marios Ioannou, 28, private sector employee.
"But people are angry with politicians and bankers for getting us in this mess. A lot of my friends have lost their jobs. This isn't the Cyprus we knew."
Final results were expected by 6.30pm in London (8.30pm Nicosia time).