Greece’s conservative New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed to speed up reforms following his landslide victory on Sunday in the country’s second election in five weeks that granted him a comfortable parliamentary majority to form a government for a second four-year term.
Jubilant supporters gathered outside party headquarters in Athens, cheering, clapping, setting off fireworks and waving blue and white party flags. Near complete results show his party has won just over 40.5 per cent of the vote, crushing his main rival, the left-wing Syriza party, which was struggling to reach 18 per cent, 2 percentage points lower than the last elections in May.
“With today’s electoral result, Greece opens a new, historic chapter in its course,” Mitsotakis said in a televised statement. Voters, he said, ”gave us a strong mandate to move faster on the course of the big changes our country needs. In a loud and mature way they have permanently closed a traumatic cycle of lies and toxicity that held the country back and divided society.” His second term as prime minister “can transform Greece at a dynamic pace of development which will increase salaries and reduce inequality, with better and free public health care, with a more effective and digital state and a strong country,” he added.
Sunday’s vote came just over a week after a migrant ship capsized and sank off the western coast of Greece, leaving hundreds of people dead and missing and calling into question the actions of Greek authorities and the country’s strict migration policy. But the disaster, one of the worst in the Mediterranean in recent years, did not affect the election, with domestic economic issues at the forefront of voters’ minds.
Mitsotakis’ party was projected to win 158 of Parliament’s 300 seats, thanks to a change in the electoral law that grants the winning party bonus seats. The previous election in May, conducted under a proportional representation system, left him five seats short of a majority despite winning nearly 41 per cent of the vote, and he had decided to seek a stronger mandate in a second election rather than to seek to form a coalition government with a smaller party.
Voter turnout, however, was low on Sunday, at just under 53 per cent of eligible voters, compared to just over 61 per cent in the May vote.
In all, eight parties were surpassing the 3 per cent threshold to enter Parliament, including an ultra-religious party and far right party backed by a jailed former lawmaker from the Nazi-inspired, and now outlawed, Golden Dawn party.
Mitsotakis, 55, campaigned on a platform of securing economic growth and political stability as Greece gradually recovers from a brutal nearly decade-long financial crisis.
His main rival, 48-year-old Alexis Tsipras, served as prime minister from 2015 to 2019 — some of the most turbulent years of Greece’s financial crisis. His performance Sunday leaves him fighting for his political survival. After his poor showing in May elections, he had struggled to rally his voter base, a task complicated by splinter parties formed by some of his former associates.
“The electoral results is obviously negative for us,” a subdued Tsipras said in a televised statement. “We have suffered a serious electoral defeat. But I believe that the electoral result is mainly negative for society and for democracy,” he added, pointing to the three small right-wing parties winning enough votes to make it into Parliament.
It would be up to the party members, he said, to decide on his fate, and the course the party itself must now take.
The party members will “be called on to judge us all and to devise the strategy that meets these difficult circumstances,” Tsipras said.
Mitsotakis, a Harvard graduate, comes from one of Greece’s most prominent political families. His late father, Constantine Mitsotakis, served as prime minister in the 1990s, his sister served as foreign minister and his nephew is the current mayor of Athens. The younger Mitsotakis has vowed to rebrand Greece as a pro-business and fiscally responsible eurozone member.
The strategy, so far, has worked. New Democracy routed Syriza in May, crucially winning Socialist strongholds on the island of Crete and lower-income areas surrounding Athens, some for the first time.
Despite scandals that hit the Mitsotakis government late in its term, including revelations of wiretapping targeting senior politicians and journalists, and a deadly February 28 train crash that exposed poor safety measures in public transport, voters appear happy to return to power a prime minister who delivered economic growth and lowered unemployment.
“Our expectations are that the country will continue the path of development that it has had in recent years,” said insurance company employee Konstantinos, who arrived early in the morning at a polling station in northern Athens with his newly wed bride Marietta, still in her wedding dress, straight from their wedding reception. He asked that his surname not be used.
Sunday’s vote was held under an electoral system that grants a bonus of between 25 and 50 seats to the winning party, depending on its performance, which makes it easier for a party to win more than the required 151 seats in the 300-member parliament to form a government.