Landslide win for centre-right New Democracy party in Greek elections

Unlikely neo-fascist group Golden Dawn to hit 3% threshold to take seat – official

New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is greeted by supporters as he arrives at the party’s headquarters in Athens, Greece on Sunday. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is greeted by supporters as he arrives at the party’s headquarters in Athens, Greece on Sunday. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

 

Voters in Greece have given Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right New Democracy party a resounding mandate to form a new government after results showed it had won by a landslide over the incumbent leftwing Syriza party, which has ruled in coalition since 2015.

Syriza prime minister Alexis Tsipras called Mr Mitsotakis to congratulate him on his party’s victory in the general election on Sunday, an official of Mr Mitsotakis’s party has said. The official said the handover of power would take place on Monday after Mr Mitsotakis’s swearing-in as prime minister. With 10 per cent of the vote counted, the country’s interior ministry said the conservatives had gained 39.8 per cent compared with 31.6 per cent for Syriza.

The lead would give New Democracy an outright majority with 158 seats in the Greek parliament, more than double its current representation in the 300-seat house. “If Golden Dawn gets into parliament, that could change,” said Yannis Theodoropoulos, an official at the ministry, adding that it was unlikely that the neo-fascist group would hit the requisite 3 per cent threshold.

“Given the data we have . . . that is far from certain.”

Responsibility

Mr Mitsotakis, the son of a former prime minister, will be sworn in as premier on Monday. His first call of congratulation came from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Jubilant party officials described the result as historic. Many called it a personal victory for the 51-year-old leader, a reformist ex-banker who has been at pains to modernise and revamp one of Europe’s most conservative parties since being elevated to its helm in January 2016.

“Credit has to go to him and his strategy of opening up and moving the party towards the centre,” Haris Theocharis, a candidate MP and former head of public revenues, told the Guardian. “It is a result that comes with a lot of responsibility.” Not since 2007, two years before the debt-burdened nation descended into economic crisis and prolonged recession, has New Democracy had such presence in parliament.

Many of its MPs will be first-time politicians, men and women who after 4.5 years of often rollercoaster leadership under Mr Tsipras were drawn to the party’s pledge to re-energise the economy by attracting foreign investment and creating jobs. “These new faces are the faces of renewal,” said one of Mr Mitsotakis’ senior advisers. “For the last two years, Kyriakos has spent every week somewhere in the country listening to peoples’ problems. He knows what they are.” Tsipras called the vote three months ahead of schedule after Syriza’s staggering defeat in European parliament elections in May.

New Democracy routed the leftists by 9.5 percentage points – a margin of victory not seen since European elections were first contested in Greece in 1981. Sunday’s election was billed as transformational: the winning party will form Greece’s first post-bailout government after almost a decade of recession. Kept afloat by international rescue funds since 2010, the thrice-bailed-out nation has been forced to endure punishing austerity in return for remaining in the eurozone. Casting his vote in the working-class district of Peristeri, the 51-year-old Mitsotakis expressed optimism.

“Today all Greeks take the fortunes of the country in their hands, and I am sure that tomorrow a better day will dawn for all,” he said, smiling broadly.

Enticing centrists

New Democracy’s revival has been linked to Mr Mitsotakis’s efforts to entice centrists and to the conservatives’ ability to siphon off votes from Golden Dawn by taking a tough stance on immigration and on an accord struck by Tsipras settling a long-running name row over North Macedonia, Greece’s neighbour to the north.

The poll was the first to take place at the height of summer since 1928, and there were worries that many would miss the vote, preferring to go to the beach or remain at home rather than traipse to polling stations in temperatures expected to reach 40C.

Twenty parties contested the race for seats in the 300-member parliament. On television shows on Sunday morning, analysts mused that the vote could be swung by hundreds of thousands of younger Greeks “deciding to go to the beach or polling stations”.

Smaller parties, such as the ultra-nationalist Greek Solution and leftist MeRA25, headed by Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister, had younger Greeks as their target groups. “Voting once every four years is not enough for democracy,” Varoufakis told reporters as he emerged from a polling station in a coastal area of southern Athens.

“Democracy belongs only to those who have the courage to defend it. Today, the only way to defend it is by voting on the basis of parties’ programmes and records. Congratulations to all those citizens who get off their sofas and vote.” Varoufakis’s party also appeared to have fared well, gaining 3.4 per cent, and nine MPs. – Guardian