Greek Elections: New Democracy on Track to Win the Most Votes

Greece's conservative prime minister's party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was on track to win a decisive victory in general elections on Sunday but failed to achieve the majority needed to lead a one-party government, setting the stage for another vote in the weeks since Mr. Mitsotakis appears to have ruled out forming a governing coalition.

Mr Mitsotakis described the initial results as a “political earthquake” calling for Greece's “experienced hand to lead”, and said that any negotiations with potential coalition partners that are fragmented are doomed to stalemate.

With 93.7 percent of the votes have been counted on Sunday night and his party, New Democracy, leads the Syriza opposition by 20 percentage points, Mr Mitsotakis greeted a crowd of cheering supporters outside his party's offices in Athens.

“We kept the country upright and we have laid the foundation for a better nation,” he said. “We will fight together in the next battle so that at the next election what we have decided on, an autonomous New Democracy, will be realized.”

New Democracy had secured 40.8 percent of the vote late Sunday, preliminary results showed, after asking Greeks to choose economic and political stability over “chaos” in a tense campaign. The centre-left Syriza party, led by former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, under whose term Greece narrowly avoided leaving the eurozone in 2015, was in second place, with 20.7 percent of the vote. The socialist party Pasok-Kinal took third place, gaining 11.6 percent.

Mr Tsipras said in a statement that he had called to congratulate Mr Mitsotakis on his victory, and that his party would convene to discuss the results given the second election looked assured.

On Monday, when the final outcome is clear, the leading party will be given a mandate to try to form a government. But it seems unlikely that the prime minister will explore that option, leading to new elections, perhaps in June or early July.

New Democracy is on track to win 145 seats in the 300-seat Parliament, with 72 seats for Syriza, preliminary results show. Syriza's poor run of form sparked speculation in the Greek news media about the future of the centre-left party.

“This reflects the total collapse of Syriza's strategy, its continual deviation to the right, a hegemonic position on the left that deepens confusion and demoralization,” said Seraphim Seferiades, a professor of politics and history at the Panteion University in Athens.

He also noted high abstentions in the voting, at over 40 percent: Turnout stood at 60 percent, preliminary results show.

Three factors added to the ambiguity of Sunday's election: one in 10 undecided voters; around 440,000 young people eligible to vote for the first time; and 3 percent of voters backing the party founded by the spokesman for the imprisoned neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, who was barred from standing.

The absence of an outright winner was to be expected, because the elections were carried out using a simple proportional representation system, which made it difficult for one party to seize power. Every second ballot will be held under a different system, which gives the winning party bonus seats, giving the New Democracy a better chance of forming an independent government.

In his campaign speech in Athens on Friday night, Mr. Mitsotakis pointed to his government's success in boosting growth (now double the eurozone average), attracting investment and strengthening the country's defense amid difficult times with neighboring Turkey.

“This is not the time for experiments that lead to nothing,” he said, adding that achieving an investment-grade rating, which would allow Greece to lower its borrowing costs, required a stable government.

Mr Mitsotakis is also unapologetic about Greece's tough stance on migration, which includes increasing border controls and has led to a 90 percent drop in migrant arrivals since 2015. His government has come under fire from human rights groups for pushing back migrants by illegal seas and setting up camps in such conditions. prisons, many Greeks welcomed the reduced inflow. Migrants flooded into Greece's resources at the height of Europe's migration crisis.

“Greece has borders, and those borders must be guarded,” Mr. Mitsotakis declared Friday to a cheering crowd of supporters waving the Greek flag.

Mr Tsipras, for his part, has been campaigning for change. He highlighted the current administration's perceived abuse of power, including the wiretapping scandal, and highlighted the rising cost of living, which opinion polls say is the top concern of most voters.

Before casting his vote on Sunday, Tsipras called on the Greek people to “abandon an arrogant government that doesn't feel the needs of many people.”

His message reassured Elisavet Dimou, 17, who voted for the first time Sunday at an Athens central school. He said he had been swayed by Syriza's promises of “change” and “justice.”

“Syriza also makes mistakes, but they don't spy half the country,” he said, referring to reports that the wiretapping scandal has swept dozens of politicians, journalists and businessmen.

Another factor in choosing Syriza was a fatal train crash in central Greece in February that killed 57 people, including many students. “They have their whole lives ahead of them, and they die because those in power don't care enough to fix the railroads,” he said.

Public outrage over the crash briefly damaged New Democracy's lead in the polls, but it rose again as supporters appeared to be comforted by the promise of continued stability and prosperity.

One supporter, Sakis Farantakis, a 54-year-old hair salon owner, said: “They are far from perfect, but they are the only safe option. We have moved; why retreat to uncertainty?”

Mitsotakis argued that a one-party government would be preferable to a coalition deal to ensure stability and reassure investors. Economic growth has persisted in Greece after a decade-long financial crisis that ended in 2018.

He has few choices of partners. The socialist Supply Party was seen as the only realistic candidate for a coalition with the New Democracy. But Mr. Mitsotakis last year that Greece's state surveillance agency had been spying on Pasok's leader, Nikos Androulakis, strained relations between the men and overshadowed any prospects for cooperation.

A left-led government is another possibility. Syriza has approached Pasok for a coalition that will likely need a third party, possibly Mera25. The party, led by Yanis Varoufakis, Tsipras' former finance minister, appeared to be gaining ground in Parliament with most of the votes counted.

Mr Androulakis has made his intentions unclear, stating that neither side can be relied upon and neither Mr Mitsotakis nor Mr Tsipras should lead a coalition government. Mr Androulakis called to congratulate Mr Mitsotakis on Sunday evening.