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Greece's ruling center-right party wins elections but still seeks a majority

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

ATHENS, Greece — It was the most tantalizing of victories. Despite inflicting the most crushing defeat in half a century on the opposition, Greece's center-right Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is expected Monday to seek a second national election within weeks, as he lacks the majority in Parliament to govern alone.

With 99.55% of the votes counted early Monday, Mitsotakis' New Democracy party won 40.79% — twice the left-wing main opposition Syriza's 20.07%. Socialist Pasok came in third at 11.46%.

The margin far outstripped pollsters' forecasts and was the biggest since 1974, when Greece's first democratic elections were held after the fall of the seven-year military dictatorship.

But the one-off proportional representation system in effect Sunday means ND only gains 146 of Parliament's 300 seats, five short of a governing majority. The new elections, expected in late June or early July, will revert to the previous system that grants the first party a bonus of up to 50 seats. That would ensure Mitsotakis a comfortable majority for a second term in power.

Later Monday, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou is due to hand Mitsotakis the mandate to try to form a coalition government — which he is expected to return.

Hours after voting ended Sunday, the 55-year-old prime minister said he would "follow all constitutional procedures" but strongly implied he would not engage in coalition talks.

"Without a doubt, the political earthquake that occurred today calls on us all to speed up the process for a definitive government solution so our country can have an experienced hand at its helm as soon as possible," he said.

Mitsotakis had long suggested he would not seek a coalition partner whatever the election outcome, advocating instead the stabilizing effect of strong, undivided governance.

If Mitsotakis hands back the mandate, it will then pass to Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, and then to Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis — neither of whom have any realistic chance of success. Each will have a maximum of three days to try to form a coalition. Once all options are exhausted, a senior judge will be appointed caretaker prime minister and new elections called.

Tsipras, 48, called Mitsotakis on Sunday night to congratulate him.

"The result is exceptionally negative for Syriza," he said in initial statements. "Fights have winners and losers."

Tsipras, who was prime minister from 2015 to 2019, said his party would gather to examine the results and how they came about. "However, the electoral cycle is not yet over," he said. "We don't have the luxury of time. We must immediately carry out all the changes that are needed so we can fight the next crucial and final electoral battle with the best terms possible."

Mitsotakis, a Harvard-educated former banking executive, came to power in 2019 on a promise of business-oriented reforms and has vowed to continue tax cuts, boost investments and bolster middle-class employment.

He has been credited with Greece's successful handling of the pandemic and of two crises with neighboring Turkey, while overseeing high growth and job creation after the end of Greece's 2009-2018 financial crisis, but a wiretapping scandal and a railway disaster damaged his ratings.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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