The ruling party of conservative Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was well ahead of the opposition in Sunday’s general election but fell short of the absolute majority required to win another term, paving the way for another election general since Mr. Mitsotakis seemed to rule out any horse-trading to form a coalition government.
Mr Mitsotakis described the preliminary outcome as a “political earthquake” that called for an “experienced hand at the helm” of Greece, and said that any negotiation with fractured potential coalition partners would only lead to an impasse.
With 85% of votes counted Sunday evening and his New Democracy party leading the opposition Syriza by 20 percentage points, Mr Mitsotakis greeted a crowd of cheering supporters outside his party’s office in Athens.
“We have kept the country on its feet and we have laid the foundations for a better nation,” he said. “We will fight together the next battle so that in the next elections what we have already decided, an autonomous New Democracy, is achieved.”
New Democracy won 40.8% of the vote on Sunday night, according to preliminary results, after calling on Greeks to opt for economic and political stability over “chaos” in a tense campaign. The center-left Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, under whose mandate Greece almost left the euro zone in 2015, landed in second place, with 20% of the vote. The socialist PASOK party took third place, gaining 11.6% after campaigning vehemently against the two main parties.
Mr. Tsipras said in a statement that he had called to congratulate Mr. Mitsotakis on his victory and that his party would meet to discuss the result as a second election seemed all but assured.
On Monday, when the end result is clear, the ruling party will get a mandate to try to form a government. But it appeared very likely that the Prime Minister will not explore this option, which will lead to new elections, most likely in June or early July. That vote would be held under a different system, which awards additional seats to the winning party, giving New Democracy a better chance of forming an independent government.
New Democracy appeared to be on track to win 146 seats out of the 300 seats in parliament, with Syriza taking 71 seats, according to preliminary results. Syriza’s poor performance has sparked speculation in the Greek media about the centre-left party’s future.
“It reflects the total collapse of Syriza’s strategy, its perpetual drift to the right, a hegemonic position to the left that has deepened confusion and demoralization,” said Seraphim Seferiades, associate professor of politics and history at the Panteion University of Athens.
He also noted the strong abstention during the vote, more than 40%: the participation rate rose to 60%, according to the preliminary results.
The absence of an outright winner was expected, since the election was held under a simple proportional representation system, which makes it difficult for a single party to come to power.
Three factors add to the ambiguity: 1 in 10 undecided; the approximately 440,000 young people who were able to vote for the first time; and the 3% of the electorate who had supported a party founded by the imprisoned spokesman of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, banned from running.
In his campaign speech in Athens on Friday evening, Mr Mitsotakis highlighted his government’s success in increasing growth (now at twice the eurozone average), attracting investment and strengthening the country’s defenses amid of a difficult period with neighboring Turkey.
“Now is not the time for experiments that lead nowhere,” he said, adding that obtaining a quality rating, which would allow Greece to reduce its borrowing costs , required a stable government.
Mr. Mitsotakis was also without apologizing over Greece’s tough stance on migration, which has included tightened border controls and led to a 90% drop in migrant arrivals since 2015. While its government has come under fire from human rights groups man for illegally push back migrants at sea and creating camps with prison-like conditions, many Greeks welcomed the reduced influx. Migrants overwhelmed Greece’s resources at the height of Europe’s migration crisis.
“Greece has borders, and those borders must be guarded,” Mitsotakis told a crowd of cheering fans waving Greek flags on Friday.
Mr. Tsipras, for his part, had campaigned for change. He pointed to a perceived abuse of power by the current administration, including a wiretapping scandal, and drew attention to the rising cost of living, which opinion polls show is the main concern of most voters.
Before voting on Sunday, Mr Tsipras called on Greeks to “leave behind an arrogant government that does not feel the needs of the many”.
His message convinced Elisavet Dimou, 17, who voted for the first time on Sunday at a school in central Athens. She said she was influenced by Syriza’s promise of “change” and “justice”.
“Syriza also made mistakes, but they didn’t spy on half the country,” she said, referring to reports that phone tapping scandal carried off dozens of politicians, journalists and entrepreneurs.
Another factor in his choice of Syriza was the fatal train crash in central Greece in February which killed 57 people, including a lot of students. “They had their whole lives ahead of them, and they died because those in power didn’t care enough to fix the trains,” she said.
Public outrage over the accident briefly shook New Democracy’s lead in the opinion polls, but it rose slightly as supporters were apparently comforted by promises of continued stability and prosperity.
One supporter, 54-year-old hair salon owner Sakis Farantakis, said: “They’re far from perfect, but it’s the only safe bet. We have advanced; why return to uncertainty?
Mr Mitsotakis argued that a one-party government would be preferable to a coalition deal to provide stability and reassure investors. Economic growth has taken hold in Greece after a decade of financial crisis that ended in 2018.
He has few choices of partners. The socialist Pasok party had been seen as the only realistic candidate for a coalition with New Democracy. But Mr Mitsotakis’ admission last year that the Greek state watchdog agency had spied Pasok leader Nikos Androulakisstrain the bonds between men and darken any prospect of cooperation.
A left-lead administration was another possibility. Syriza had courted Pasok for a coalition that would most likely need a third party, probably Mera25. This party is led by Yanis Varoufakis, Mr. Tsipras’ former finance minister.
Mr. Androulakis had kept his intentions unclear, saying the two parties were unreliable and that neither Mr. Mitsotakis nor Mr. Tsipras should lead a coalition government. Mr. Androulakis called to congratulate Mr. Mitsotakis late Sunday.
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