Greece’s ruling New Democracy party swept to a landslide victory in a parliamentary election but fell just short of the threshold needed to form a government of its own.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his conservative party had a leading 40.8 percent of the vote based on more than 90 percent of the ballots counted on Sunday night, compared to 20.1 percent for the leftist Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras.
Greece’s interior ministry projects that New Democracy will win 145 seats in parliament, six short of an absolute majority.
“[The exit polls] shows a clear victory for the New Democracy and a clear change in the mandate to pursue the major changes sought by Greek society,” said government spokesman Akis Skertsos, as the party began to celebrate its strong showing.
If the full results prove true, Sunday’s showing will be a major disappointment for Syriza, and a better-than-expected showing for New Democracy.
But because it lacks an outright majority to rule alone, the conservative party will find it difficult to form a government without seeking coalition partners and may be forced to call a new ballot in one months.
New Democracy has shown that it prefers to seek a clear victory in the second election and govern itself.
“We say we want to govern directly because it will ensure stability and forward. So we have the right to ask the Greeks for that in the next election,” said the Minister of Public Order Takis Theodorikakos on Skai television shortly after the polls closed on Sunday night.
The election was held under a new law of proportional representation, which made it particularly difficult for any party to win enough parliamentary seats to form a government on its own.
When the second election is held, likely in late June or early July, the law will change again, moving to a system that rewards the leading party with bonus seats and makes it easier for it to win the parliamentary majority.
The separation of youth politics
University student Petros Apostolakis expressed his dissatisfaction with the exit polls. “I’m not very happy [with the results…] For the past few years, I have seen [the] New Democracy party that implements agendas 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 of the neglected issue.
George Tzogopoulos, lecturer at the Democritus University of Thrace, told Al Jazeera that young people are dissatisfied with the political class in general. “But what happened is that they did not show up and vote, they expressed their anger through demonstrations or through social media. [instead],” he said.
“This is how New Democracy was able to score such an impressive success,” added Tzogopoulos.
Sunday’s election is Greece’s first since its economy came to a halt under strict supervision by international lenders who provided bailout funds during the country’s nearly decade-long financial crisis.
Mitsotakis, a 55-year-old Harvard-educated former bank executive, won the 2019 election on a promise of business-oriented reforms and pledged to continue cutting taxes, boosting investments and strengthening on middle class jobs.
His popularity took a hit after the February 28 rail disaster that killed 57 people after an intercity passenger train was accidentally placed on the same track as an oncoming freight train. It was later revealed that the train stations were poorly staffed and the safety infrastructure was dilapidated and outdated.
Thousands of people, many of them university students like the victims of the rail disaster, held rallies in Greek cities to protest what they saw as negligence on the part of the government.
The government has also been hit by a surveillance scandal in which journalists and prominent Greek politicians discovered spyware on their phones. The revelations have deepened distrust among the country’s political parties at a time when consensus is sorely needed.
Nevertheless, the prime minister continues to lead opinion polls in the run-up to the election.
Tsipras, 48, served as prime minister during some of the most turbulent years of the crisis. He is struggling to regain the broad support he enjoyed when he came to power in 2015 on a promise to reverse bailout-imposed austerity measures.
Senior Syriza official Dimitris Papadimoulis, a vice-president of the European Parliament, told state TV ERT that if confirmed, the result would be “very far” from the party’s goals and would mark a failure to – rally of the opposition to the government.
Greece’s once-dominant Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party is likely to be at the center of any coalition talks. Exit polls have a potential kingmaker between 9.5 and 12.5 percent.
PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis, 44, is at the center of a wiretapping scandal where his phone was targeted for surveillance.
But Androulakis’ strained relationship with Mitsotakis, whom he accuses of covering up the wiretapping scandal, means a deal with conservatives will be difficult. His relationship with Tsipras – whom he accuses of trying to poach PASOK voters – is also poor.
During the vote, Androulakis firmly rejected forming a partnership with Mitsotakis’s conservatives.