Greece’s premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis has routed his main rivals in Sunday’s parliamentary election, unexpectedly increasing his centre-right party’s share of the vote but falling just short of an outright majority.

With more than half of votes counted, the ruling New Democracy party secured more than 40 per cent, building a lead of more than 20 points over its nearest rival Alexis Tsipras’s radical left Syriza party.

While the result far exceeds polls in the run-up to the vote, Mitsotakis is still expected to call a second election in the summer because his party remained under the 45 per cent share required to secure a majority in the 300-seat Greek parliament.

No ruling party in Greece has increased its share of the vote in an election for more than 40 years. “Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best electoral performance of an incumbent government since Greece’s transition to democracy,” said Dimitris Papadimitriou, professor of political science at Manchester university.

“Greece needs a government that believes in reforms, and this cannot happen with a fragile government,” Mitsotakis said late on Sunday, making clear that he would opt for a second round of elections to seek a majority. “New Democracy has the approval of the citizens to govern independently and strongly,” he added.

Mitsotakis has repeatedly said he wants to avoid a coalition and would hold out for a majority government. This could be achieved by using a new electoral law, introduced by his government, which grants the party with the most votes in the first election up to 50 bonus seats in a second round.

The election was a potentially career-threatening blow to Tsipras, a former prime minister widely associated with his high-stakes brinkmanship over Greece’s membership of the euro.

Rather than benefit from the cost-of-living debate that dominated the campaign, Syriza’s vote share fell significantly from 31.53 per cent to just over 20 per cent.

According to the Greek constitution, if no outright winner emerges on election day, the party with the most votes will receive a three-day mandate to form a government via a coalition. If unsuccessful, the parties with the second- and third-highest votes are given the same opportunity.

Mitsotakis could, in theory, try to build a coalition between New Democracy and Pasok, the centre-left party that took around 11 per cent. But party insiders say the prospect of such an alliance is low.

Papadimitriou argues that leaders of Pasok will themselves want to push for a second election as they “can now smell blood and will seek to overtake Syriza”.

Greek voters had been focused on the high cost of living, with inflation weighing heavily on family budgets and putting many households at risk of poverty.

But, after years of bailouts and austerity measures following the debt crisis, Greece’s economy has made one of the strongest eurozone recoveries from the Covid-19 pandemic and is about to reach investment grade again.

“The economic outlook of the country looks strong, and investors will be reassured with another term of Mitsotakis at the helm as the economic projectory of Greece short to medium term will continue to improve,” said Mujtaba Rahman, head of Eurasia Group’s Europe practice.

Rahman said the “open question” over Mitsotakis remained his commitment to the rule of law. The prime minister has been embroiled in a spyware scandal in which the security services, overseen by Mitsotakis’s chief of staff and nephew, spied on politicians and journalists

The government has also been accused of illegal pushbacks of refugees at its borders and of presiding over a decline in media pluralism. A fatal train crash that led to the death of 57 people has highlighted the dire state of some public services and infrastructure.


© Louiza Vradi/Reuters

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