Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his conservative party had triggered a “political earthquake” with a landslide victory in Sunday’s election, but hinted he would seek another election to secure an outright majority that would allow the left to govern alone.
With most votes counted, his New Democracy party was on 40.8% of the vote – a 20 point lead over Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party, which had 20.1%.
Despite the clear lead, Greek Interior Ministry projections showed New Democracy losing six seats by an absolute majority in parliament, leaving Mitsotakis the choice of forming a coalition or calling for a new ballot for a result. decisive.
The 55-year-old made his preference clear.
“Citizens want a strong government with a four-year horizon,” he said.
“Today’s political earthquake calls on all of us to expedite the process for a definitive governmental solution,” he added.
Tsipras also indicated that a new vote was likely, saying “the electoral cycle is not over yet”.
The next battle, he said, will be “critical and final”.
From Monday, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou will give the three main parties – New Democracy, Syriza and the socialist PASOK – three days each in turn to form a coalition government.
If they all fail, Sakellaropoulou will appoint an interim government to prepare for new elections about a month later.
Earlier in the day, as exit polls suggested New Democracy was on course to become the largest party in parliament, its officials indicated they would prefer to seek a second vote.
“We said we wanted to govern purely and simply because it would ensure stability and the way forward. So we have the right to ask that of the Greek people in the next elections,” Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos told Skai TV shortly after polls closed on Sunday evening.
The election was held under a new proportional representation law, which makes it particularly difficult for one party to win enough seats in parliament to form a government on its own.
If a second election is held, probably in late June or early July, the law will change again, moving to a system that rewards the leading party with bonus seats and making it easier for the favorite to secure a parliamentary majority.
Youth political disengagement
Sunday’s election is the first in Greece since its economy ceased to be under the strict watch of international lenders who had provided bailout funds during the country’s nearly decade-long financial crisis.
Mitsotakis, a 55-year-old Harvard-educated former banking executive and consultant to a global management firm, won the last election in 2019 on the promise of business-focused reforms and vowed to continue tax cuts, stimulate investment and strengthen middle-class employment. .
His popularity took a hit following a February 28 train disaster which killed 57 people after an intercity passenger train was accidentally put on the same track as an oncoming freight train. It was later revealed that the stations were understaffed and security infrastructure was broken and outdated.
Thousands of people, many of them university students like the victims of the train disaster, held rallies in Greek cities in expression to what they saw as government negligence.
Yet with economic growth of 5.9% in 2022 and falling unemployment and inflation, opinion polls have shown the prime minister to be steadily ahead as the election nears.
George Tzogopoulos, a lecturer at the Democritus University of Thrace, told Al Jazeera that young people were unhappy with the political class as a whole. “But what happened was they didn’t show up and vote, they expressed their anger through protests or through social media. [instead],” he said.
“That’s how New Democracy managed to achieve such impressive success,” Tzogopoulos added.
Turnout reached 60%, with fewer abstentions than previously feared.
Welcoming the results, Glykeria Tzima, a 62-year-old pensioner, said: “Democracy won today – not just New Democracy, but democracy as a whole.
“We want to see a continuation of what has been created over the last four years and leave the toxicity behind. We, we Greeks, have gone through difficult times and we have seen that with this government and this Prime Minister we have a future.
University student Petros Apostolakis, however, was disappointed.
“I’m not very happy [with the results] … In recent years, I have seen [the] The New Democracy party is implementing programs that have nothing to do with the interests of my generation,” he told Al Jazeera in Athens, citing climate change and high housing prices as some issues that had been overlooked.
Tsipras served as prime minister during some of the most tumultuous years of Greece’s economic crisis, but the 48-year-old has struggled to win back the broad support he enjoyed when he came to power in 2015 on the promise of rescind the austerity measures imposed by the rescue plan.
In some areas, the party trailed the third but once dominant Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), led by 44-year-old Nikos Androulakis.
Dimitris Papadimoulis, senior Syriza official, vice-president of the European Parliament, told public television ERT that if confirmed, the result would be “significantly removed” from the party’s objectives and mark a failure to rally the opposition to the government.
PASOK is likely to be at the center of any coalition talks, although any discussion is likely to be difficult.
Androulakis has a bad relationship with Mitsotakis, whom he accuses of covering up a wiretapping scandal in which his phone was targeted for surveillance.
His relationship with Tsipras – whom he has accused of trying to poach PASOK voters – is also rocky.