Conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis won Greece’s national elections on Sunday with a clear majority, securing a second term during which he vowed to bring about major reforms to transform the country.
With nearly all the votes counted, Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party obtained a score of over 40.5 percent, well ahead of the leftist Syriza party led by former premier Alexis Tsipras, which scored less than 18 percent.
The margin is the widest for the conservatives in almost 50 years, as voters rewarded them for nursing Greece back to economic health after a crippling debt crisis.
“The people have given us a safe majority. Major reforms will proceed rapidly,” Mitsotakis said, adding that he had “ambitious” targets for a new term that could “transform” Greece.
The 55-year-old former McKinsey consultant and Harvard graduate, who steered the EU nation from the coronavirus pandemic back to two consecutive years of strong growth, had already scored a thumping win in an election just a month ago.
But having fallen short by five parliamentary seats of being able to form a single-party government, he refused to try to form a coalition, in effect forcing 9.8 million Greek voters back to the ballot boxes.
The election also saw voters turn away from two key protagonists during the debt years.
Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s radical-left MeRA25 party failed to make it past the three percent threshold to get into parliament, while Tsipras’s party scored even less than in May, losing a further 275,000 votes.
– ‘Judgment’ –
US President Joe Biden congratulated Mitsotakis on his victory.
“I look forward to continuing our close cooperation on shared priorities to foster prosperity and regional security,” he said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron also sent congratulations. “Let’s continue together all the work undertaken for a stronger and more sovereign Europe,” he wrote on Twitter.
And Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani offered his congratulations. Mitsotakis’s re-election was “a sign of political stability that is good for the whole Europe”, he wrote on Twitter.
Tsipras, meanwhile, assessed the damage.
“We have sustained a serious political defeat,” he said in an address following his fifth loss to Mitsotakis — his third in a national election.
The 48-year-old former premier said that his party needed a “top to bottom” reappraisal before next year’s European Parliament elections.
He would submit his leadership to the “judgment” of Syriza party members, he added.
Tsipras remains for many the prime minister who nearly crashed Greece out of the euro, the leader who reneged on a vow of abolishing austerity to sign the country on to more painful bailout terms.
With the strong swing to the right — including the return of the far right after a four-year hiatus — Varoufakis said his left-wing party would be sorely missed in parliament.
To the dismay of centrist groups, the nationalist party Spartiates (Spartans) made it past the three-percent threshold to get into parliament, along with two small similar parties. The party is endorsed by the jailed former spokesman of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.
With the total proportion of votes garnered by the three parties reaching 12.9 percent, Tsipras said the strongest showing of Greek hard-right parties in decades was a “visible” threat to democracy.
Voter fatigue was also evident after a second election in a month: turnout was less than 53 percent compared to over 61 percent in May.
– High hopes –
Mitsotakis first became prime minister in 2019, beating his predecessor Tsipras on a vow to move on from a decade of economic crisis.
That election was the first in the EU nation’s post-bailout era, at a time when businesses and workers were ailing under the burden of heavy taxes imposed by Syriza to build a budget surplus demanded by international creditors.
Over the next four years, tax burdens were eased, and while the Covid-19 pandemic wiped out Greece’s vital tourism revenues, the country has since bounced back with growth of 8.3 percent in 2021 and 5.9 percent last year.
Mitsotakis played up Greece’s newfound economic health in his re-election bid, saying his conservatives had cut 50 taxes while increasing national output by 29 billion euros ($32 billion) and overseeing the largest infrastructure upgrades since 1975.
The message appeared to have gone down well with voters weary of Greece’s debt years that were awash with job losses, rising payments and companies going bankrupt.
Aris Manopoulos, a shop owner, said he “voted for New Democracy so that the country can advance, and continue to revive economically”.