- By Nick Beck in Athens and Paul Kirby in London
- BBC News
Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis won the national election, hailing his party’s big victory as a “political earthquake”.
His center-right New Democratic Party was on course to nearly 41% of the vote, five seats short of a majority.
He was congratulated by his center-left rival Alexis Tsipras, as his Syriza party braced for a dismal 20% result.
Mitsotakis said the result showed that the Greeks had given his party a mandate for a four-year government.
“The people want to choose a Greece run by a majority government and the new democracy without the help of others,” he said in a victory speech.
Hours earlier, party supporters cheered in Athens as a poll showed the unexpected size of the New Democracy party’s victory. As the results came in, it was clear that pre-election polls had underestimated the 20-point margin between the two major parties.
The prime minister’s remarks were taken as an indication that he would not be looking to share power with another party, but rather run for a second election in late June, when the winning party would get additional seats.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou will offer him the chance to form a coalition, but it is already clear that he will refuse.
The result was a massive setback for Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who described his party’s performance as “extremely negative”. He came to power in 2015 campaigning against austerity in international bailouts, but eventually agreed to creditors’ demands.
The center-right has ruled Greece for the past four years, and can boast that the country’s growth last year was close to 6%.
Mitsotakis was showing the nation that only he could be trusted to steer the Greek economy forward and boost recent growth. The Greeks seem to have responded positively – more so than might have been expected.
Giorgos Adamopoulos, 47, voted for New Democracy just a few hundred meters from the Acropolis in Athens.
He told the BBC that Greece deserved a better form of politics, but endorsed Mitsotakis because he was impressed by his record after four years as prime minister.
Four years ago, winning 41% of the vote would have been enough to secure a majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament.
Now it takes more than 45%, because the winning party is no longer entitled to the 50-seat bonus in the first round, which increases the likelihood of re-election.
Mitsotakis will keep his eye on the additional seats he would be entitled to if he wins the second election. An absolute majority would give him four years in power with a government of his choosing.
If he wants coalition talks, Syriza’s socialist rival PASOK would be a potential partner, as one of the big winners in the election with 11.5% of the vote.
But that will be difficult because PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis was the target of a wiretapping scandal last year.
This led to the resignation of Mitsotakis’ nephew, who was serving as chief of staff to the prime minister, as well as head of Greek intelligence.
Mr Androulakis believes the prime minister knew he was one of dozens of people targeted by illegal spyware.
Mr. Mitsotakis comes from one of the most powerful political dynasties in Greece.
His father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, was himself Prime Minister in the early 1990s. His sister, Dora Bakoyannis, was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and her son, Kostas Bakoyannis, is the current mayor of Athens.
In the end, the February railway tragedy that overshadowed the election campaign played no discernible role in the outcome.
57 people died in the disaster, many of them students. Opposition parties have highlighted the tragedy as a symptom of a dysfunctional state that has shrunk to the bone after years of economic crisis and lack of investment.
Greeks have the right to vote from the age of 17, and a preliminary analysis of the vote by Greek TV indicated that 31.5% of voters aged 17-24 supported ND, almost three points higher than Syriza.
First-time voters Chrisanthe and Vagelis, both 18, voted for Syriza because their generation wanted “something new, something different”.
Other than PASOK, the KKE Communist Party also increased its vote share.
But another casualty was former Syriza Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose MeRA25 party failed to qualify for parliament.
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