Conservatives lead in Greece elections but fall short of outright majority

Conservatives lead in Greece elections but fall short of outright majority
Members of the Greek Communist Party in 2017. (Image via and

Greece’s ruling conservative government is the country’s most competent government ever — and its least corrupt. It has gotten rid of a lot of pointless red tape that discouraged investment in Greece, and eliminated some wasteful government spending. But it had the bad luck to be in power when the COVID-19 pandemic battered the entire world, shrinking Greece’s economy and increasing an already high unemployment rate. That, and a February 28 rail disaster, kept the conservatives from winning an outright majority in today’s parliamentary election, even though the conservatives had boosted economic growth before and after the pandemic.

Greece’s ruling conservative New Democracy party led the leftist opposition by a large margin, but fell just short of the threshold needed to form a government on its own. The conservatives had 41% of the vote, compared to 20% for the left-wing Syriza party, with 90% of votes counted as of this evening.

Greece’s interior ministry estimated that New Democracy could win 145 seats in parliament, six short of an absolute majority. “[The exit polls] show a clear victory for New Democracy and a clear renewal of the mandate to continue the major changes sought by Greek society,” said government spokesman Akis Skertsos said.

If borne out by full results, Sunday’s showing would be a major disappointment for Syriza, and a better-than-expected performance for New Democracy.

But it fell short of an outright majority, so New Democracy will struggle to form a government without seeking coalition partners and could be forced to call a new election in a month’s time.

“We have said that we want to govern outright because that would ensure stability and the way forward. So we have the right to ask the Greek people for that in the next election,” Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos said just after polls closed this evening.

The election was held under a new law of proportional representation. Using that system, rather than the U.S.-style first-past-the-post system, makes it hard for any one party in a country with several political parties to win enough parliamentary seats to form a government on its own.

If a second election is held, probably in late June, the law will change again, shifting to a system that rewards the leading party with bonus seats and makes it easier for the leading party to win a parliamentary majority.

Sunday’s election is Greece’s first since its economy ceased being under strict supervision by international lenders who had provided bailout funds during the country’s nearly decade-long financial crisis. New Democracy’s competence gave international lenders renewed confidence in Greece and its growth prospects.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a Harvard-educated financial executive, won 2019 elections on a promise of business-oriented reforms and has vowed to continue tax cuts, boost investments and bolster middle-class employment.

His popularity took a hit following a February 28 rail disaster that killed 57 people after an intercity passenger train was accidentally put on the same rail line as an oncoming freight train. Despite that, the prime minister had been steadily ahead in opinion polls in the run-up to the election.

The leftist challenger, Alexis Tsipras, had served as prime minister during the financial crisis, which some of his policies helped deepen. He struggled to regain the wide support he enjoyed when he swept to power in 2015 on a promise of reversing budget cuts.

Senior Syriza official Dimitris Papadimoulis admitted that today’s election results are “significantly far” from the party’s goals and reflected a failure to turn out opponents of the government.

Greece’s once-dominant Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party, which dominated the country in the 1980s, is likely to be wooed by New Democracy in any coalition talks. Exit polls have it getting between 10 and 13 percent vote, making it a potential kingmaker.

But PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis’s poor relationship with Prime Minister Mitsotakis means a deal with conservatives may be out of reach. His relationship with Tsipras – whom he views as trying to poach PASOK voters – is also bad. In the weeks before the election, Androulakis had ruled out forming a coalition government with the ruling conservatives.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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