Five takeaways from Greece's May 21 election

AFP , Monday 22 May 2023

A crushing victory in Greece's Sunday elections by the conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will nevertheless lead to a new ballot in a month, as the winner fell short of a majority.

Greece s Prime Minister and leader of New Democracy Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses supporters at the headquarters of his party in Athens, Greece, Sunday, May 21, 2023. AP


Here are five takeaways from the vote in the eastern Mediterranean country of 10.5 million people:

Huge win comes up empty

New Democracy on Sunday scored its best result since 2007 at 40.79 percent, beating the leftist Syriza party of former premier Alexis Tsipras by over 20 points -- the widest margin between the two leading parties in a Greek election since 1974.

But under a proportional representation electoral system introduced by Tsipras, New Democracy won 146 seats, five short of a majority in the 300-deputy parliament.

Mitsotakis himself on Sunday indicated he would decline a mandate to form a coalition government, and said parties should "speed up" procedures for a new ballot, expected for June 25 or July 2.

The new election will be governed by different rules granting the winner a seat bonus in parliament.

Left penalised

Tsipras lost his fourth straight election to Mitsotakis after a campaign accusing the ruling party of "profiteering, inequality, nepotism, indifference, arrogance, injustice".

Though the former premier who led the 2015 bailout negotiations that nearly crashed Greece out of the euro remains in charge of his party, the next election is do-or-die for his political future.

Another casualty Sunday was Tsipras' former maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose anti-austerity MeRA25 party failed to garner enough support to make it to parliament.

Abstention fears unfounded

As the Sunday ballot was not expected to be decisive, many feared mass abstention. These concerns seemed vindicated when the first turnout was reported at just 31.5 percent of the electorate.

But in the end, nearly 61 percent of Greeks turned up to vote, higher than in 2019.

Forgiving voters

Greece was swept by nationwide protests after 57 people died in a collision between two trains in February, the country's worst rail disaster.

Rumoured plans to hold the election in April were scrapped, the transport minister resigned, and Mitsotakis was forced to apologise for the poor state of the railway network.

The government was also under fire over a wire-tapping scandal implicating the state intelligence agency, which is overseen by Mitsotakis' own office.

The head of the intelligence agency, and a nephew of Mitsotakis who was a top office aide, both resigned over the scandal.

But talk of retribution against the ruling party failed to materialise at the ballot, where conservative voters re-elected Mitsotakis' transport minister too.

Youth turn right

For months, it was widely expected that nearly 440,000 young voters taking part in elections for the first time -- some as young as 16 -- would side with the leftist party of Tsipras, 48.

Greece is struggling with high youth unemployment, and even those lucky enough to have a job barely earn enough to cover their rent.

But in the end, a third of the 17-24 age bracket apparently sided with Mitsotakis' conservatives, Sunday's exit poll found.

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