Greece’s conservative New Democracy party has won the country’s parliamentary elections, with voters giving reformist Kyriakos Mitsotakis another four-year term as prime minister.
Official results from nearly 90 percent of voting centres nationwide on Sunday showed Mitsotakis’s party with just over 40 percent of the vote, with his main rival, the left-wing Syriza party, suffering a crushing defeat with just under 18 percent, even worse than its 20 percent in the last elections in May.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Mitsotakis hailed the “strong mandate” after the landslide victory. “The people have given us a safe majority. Major reforms will proceed rapidly,” he said in a televised address.
New Democracy was projected to win about 157 or 158 of the 300 seats in parliament, due 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 the party five seats short of a majority despite winning 41 percent of the vote.
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 heavily influence the election, with domestic economic issues at the forefront of voters’ minds.
Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos, reporting from Athens, said voters were concerned primarily with the economy.
“That is something that New Democracy appears to be trusted on much more than Syriza. Because the economy has been growing again since 2019, and in the last year has marked higher growth than any other European Union member,” he said.
“New Democracy has convinced people that Greece under its watch is close to getting investment grade status back for its sovereign bonds and that will greatly lower the cost of borrowing – now close to five percent, which is high for Greece.
“So it appears that the message is ‘Stick with us. We are going to provide confidence, trust in the international markets and growth and jobs that will keep your children at home’. That message appears to be getting through to voters.”
Mitsotakis, 55, secured a second four-year term as prime minister after New Democracy won by a huge margin in May, but fell short of gaining enough parliamentary seats to form a government.
With a new electoral law now favouring the winning party with bonus seats, he is hoping to win enough seats to form a strong majority in parliament.
The new electoral system 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 parliament to form a government.
Mitsotakis’s main rival was Alexis Tsipras, the 48-year-old head of the left-wing Syriza party, who served as prime minister from 2015 to 2019, during some of the most turbulent years of Greece’s nearly decade-long financial crisis.
Tsipras fared dismally in the May elections, coming a distant second, 20 percentage points behind New Democracy. He has been trying to rally his voter base, a task complicated by splinter parties formed by some of his former associates.
Polls in shadow of boat tragedy
Sunday’s election comes after hundreds of refugees and migrants died or went missing in southern Greece when an overcrowded fishing trawler heading from Libya to Italy capsized and sank, drawing criticism over how Greek authorities handled the rescue.
As Greece gradually recovers from its brutal financial crisis, voters appear happy to return to power a prime minister who delivered economic growth and lowered unemployment.
Mitsotakis, a Harvard University 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 mayor of Athens. He has promised to rebrand Greece as a pro-business and fiscally responsible eurozone member.
The strategy, so far, has worked: New Democracy routed left-wing opponents in May, crucially winning Socialist strongholds on the island of Crete and lower-income areas surrounding Athens, some for the first time.
Trailing in opinion polls and on the back of his particularly poor showing in the May vote, Tsipras finds himself fighting for his political survival. His political campaign in the run-up to the previous elections was deemed by many as being too negative, focusing heavily on scandals that hit the Mitsotakis government late in its term.
Despite the scandals, which included revelations of wiretapping targeting senior politicians and journalists, and a deadly February 28 train crash that exposed poor safety measures, Tsipras failed to make any significant gains against Mitsotakis.
In the May elections, held under a proportional representation system, Mitsotakis’s party fell five seats short, and he decided not to try to form a coalition government, preferring instead to take his chances with a second election.