Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his conservative party unleashed a “political earthquake” with a thumping win on Sunday, May 21, as he hinted that he would seek a new ballot to obtain an absolute majority enabling it to govern alone.
With just over 82% of the ballot counted, his New Democracy party was credited with 40.8 percent of the votes – a 20-point lead ahead of his nearest rival, leftist challenger Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party, which garnered 20.1 percent.
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,” he added.
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”.
Mitsotakis, a Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant, had entered into 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 throats of a crippling debt crisis a decade ago.
With a post-Covid tourism revival lifting the country’s growth to 5.9 percent in 2022, Mitsotakis has campaigned on a pledge to build on the economic gains. 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 from 2015 to 2019, during which he led rocky negotiations with creditors that nearly crashed Greece out of the euro. Tsipras lost a third of his party’s 2019 percentage, and in some areas trailed the third-ranked socialist party Pasok-Kinal, led by 44-year-old Nikos Androulakis. Another casualty Sunday was Tsipras’ former maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose anti-austerity MeRA25 party failed to make it to parliament.
Androulakis had been seen early on as a potential coalition partner for Mitsotakis, but things went sour when he discovered he had been under state surveillance – which is overseen by the prime minister’s office. 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 spying saga did not seem to have had much of an impact on the conservatives’ results, which were far better than the 6-8 percent 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, retired 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.”
But Georgios Koulouris, 60, a miner living in Australia who returned 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.
Turnout reached only 58 percent as many had likely sat out the ballot given the anticipated second vote.