Incumbent Greek PM routs competition at ballot box, with second round expected

With most votes counted, Kyriakos Mitsotakis leads his opponent by 20 points; conservative leader expected to call another election in hopes of winning an outright majority

Greece's Prime Minister and leader of New Democracy Kyriakos Mitsotakis votes at a polling station in Athens, Greece, May 21, 2023. (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)
Greece's Prime Minister and leader of New Democracy Kyriakos Mitsotakis votes at a polling station in Athens, Greece, May 21, 2023. (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

ATHENS, Greece, (AFP) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservative party scored a thumping win at Sunday’s election, first results show, but would likely call a new ballot in a month’s time, as it fell short of an outright majority to rule alone.

With just over 82 percent of the ballot counted, his New Democracy party was credited with 40.8% of the votes, a 20-point lead ahead of his nearest rival, leftist challenger Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party, which garnered 20.1%.

Despite the clear win, the conservatives were short of a few seats for an outright majority, meaning that Mitsotakis had the choice of seeking a coalition or a new ballot for a decisive result.

The 55-year-old made clear his preference.

“The citizens want a strong government with a four-year horizon,” he said. “Today’s political earthquake calls on all of us to speed up the process for a definitive government solution.”

His rival Tsipras also set the stage for a new vote, saying “the electoral cycle is not over yet.” The next battle, he said, will be “critical and final”.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses a parliament session in Athens on August 26, 2022. (Giorgos KONTARINIS/Eurokinissi/AFP)

Senior Syriza official Dimitris Papadimoulis, a European Parliament vice-president, told state TV ERT that if confirmed, the result would be “significantly far” from the party’s goals and would mark a failure to rally opposition to the government.

Turnout reached only 60%, as many likely sat out the ballot given the anticipated second vote.

Economic stability

Mitsotakis, a Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant, had entered the elections as the favorite, with Greece currently enjoying fairly robust economic health.

Unemployment and inflation have fallen and growth this year is projected to reach twice that of the European Union’s average – a far cry from the throes of a crippling debt crisis a decade ago.

With a post-COVID tourism revival lifting the country’s growth to 5.9% in 2022, Mitsotakis has campaigned on a pledge to build on the economic gains.

Two voters cast ballots at a polling station in Athens, Greece, May 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Yet the fear that wages are not keeping pace with rising costs remains a key concern for voters – something his rival Tsipras sought to exploit.

But the result is a crushing blow to Tsipras, who has lost his fourth-straight electoral battle to Mitsotakis after serving as premier in 2015 to 2019, during which he led rocky negotiations with creditors that nearly crashed Greece out of the euro.

In some areas, Tsipras trails the third-ranked socialist party Pasok-Kinal, led by 44-year-old Nikos Androulakis. Early results have Pasok at 12.6% nationwide.

Androulakis was seen early on as a potential coalition partner for Mitsotakis, but things went sour when he discovered he had been under state surveillance.

The wiretap scandal, which erupted last year, forced the resignation of the head of the intelligence service and a nephew of Mitsotakis, who was a top aide in his office.

While it sparked an uproar, the wiretap saga did not seem to have had much of an impact on the conservatives’ results, which were far better than the 6-8% lead predicted by pollsters in the run-up to the election.

Anger over a train crash that claimed 57 lives in February also did not seem to have significantly impacted the vote.

The government initially blamed the accident – Greece’s worst-ever rail disaster – on human error, even though the country’s notoriously poor rail network has suffered from years of under-investment.

‘We have a future’

Welcoming the results, retiree Glykeria Tzima, 62, said: “Democracy won today – not only New Democracy, but democracy as a whole.”

“We want to see a continuation of what was created in the last four years and leave the toxicity behind us. We, us Greeks, went through tough times and we saw that with this government and this prime minister, we have a future.”

Leader of the main opposition Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras talks to the media after casting his vote at a polling station in Athens, Greece, May 21, 2023. (Michael Varaklas/AP)

But Georgios Koulouris, 60, a miner living in Australia who returned to Greece in order to vote, said deep challenges and inequality plague the country.

“There is a part of the people who literally lives on small change,” he said, adding that Greece was suffering from a brain drain because of stagnating salaries and exploding rents.

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