Conservatives aim for large majority while Greeks return to polls

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greeks went to the polls for the second time in less than two months on Sunday, with the ruling Conservative party seen by a large majority as a strong favorite to win after a campaign focused on economic growth and security.

The vote is overshadowed by a major shipwreck just over a week ago that left hundreds of migrants dead or missing off the coast of western Greece. However, the disaster is unlikely to materially affect the overall outcome as the Greeks are expected to focus on domestic economic issues.

Conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 55, is seeking a second term as prime minister after his New Dimokratia party won the May elections by a wide margin but failed to secure enough seats in parliament to form a government. Now that a new electoral law favors the winning party with bonus seats, he’s hoping for a strong majority in the 300-seat parliament.

His main rival is Alexis Tsipras, 48, who heads the left-wing Syriza party and was prime minister from 2015 to 2019 – some of the most turbulent years of Greece’s nearly decade-long financial crisis.

Tsipras did poorly in the May elections, finishing a distant second, 20 percentage points behind the New Democracy. Since then, he’s been trying to rally his electoral base, a task made difficult by the splinter parties founded by some of his former associates.

Speaking in a western Athens neighborhood after the vote, Tsipras appeared to agree that his party would remain in opposition for the next four years.

“This crucial election will not only decide who will govern the country, it will determine our lives for the next four years, it will determine the quality of our democracy,” Tsipras said. β€œIt decides whether we will have an uncontrolled government or a strong opposition. Only Syriza can play that role.”

Sunday’s vote came after hundreds of migrants died and went missing in southern Greece when an overcrowded fishing trawler en route from Libya to Italy capsized and sank. The shipwreck sparked criticism of the Greek authorities’ handling of the rescue, as well as the country’s restrictive migration policy.

But the disaster, one of the worst in the Mediterranean in recent years, has done little to dent Mitsotakis’ 20-point lead over Tsipras in opinion polls, as the economy is the focus of concern for most voters. As Greece gradually recovers from its brutal financial crisis, voters appear happy to restore power to a prime minister who has fueled economic growth and reduced unemployment.

“Our expectations are that the country will continue on the development path of recent years,” said insurance official Konstantinos, who arrived at a polling station in north Athens early this morning with his newlywed bride Marietta in her wedding dress, straight from their wedding reception. He requested that his last name not be used.

Another early voter, Sofia Oikonomopoulou, said she hoped the winning party would have enough parliamentary seats to form a government on Sunday “so the country wouldn’t have to suffer any more”.

“We hope for better days, for justice, for a health system, for education, for everything to get better and for Greeks to really have a better life through these elections,” she said.

Mitsotakis, a Harvard graduate, comes from one of Greece’s most prominent political families. His late father, Constantine Mitsotakis, was Prime Minister in the 1990s, his sister was Foreign Minister and his nephew is the current Mayor of Athens. The younger Mitsotakis has vowed to rebrand Greece as a pro-business and fiscally responsible member of the eurozone.

The strategy has worked so far. The New Democracy defeated left-wing opponents in May, decisively winning socialist strongholds on the island of Crete and in lower-income areas around Athens, some for the first time.

“We vote so that the people can have a stable government in the next four years,” Mitsotakis said after the vote in northern Athens. “I am sure that with maturity, Greeks will vote for their personal prosperity and for the stability of the country.”

A man holds a baby while voting at a polling station during general elections in Athens June 25, 2023.  Greek voters will go to the polls again on June 25, in an election that will see Conservative lead candidate Kyriakos Mitsotakis seek a second term in office with an absolute parliamentary majority to form a

A man holds a baby as he casts his ballot at a polling station during general elections in Athens June 25, 2023. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Tsipras is behind in opinion polls and is struggling for political survival due to his particularly poor showing in the May vote. Many felt his campaigning in the run-up to previous elections was too negative and too focused on the scandals that rocked the Mitsotakis government towards the end of its term.

Despite the scandals, which included revelations of wiretapping of high-ranking politicians and journalists and a fatal February 28 train crash that exposed inadequate security measures, Tsipras failed to gain any significant advantages over Mitsotakis.

The Conservative leader’s ability to form a government, and how strong it will be, could depend on how many parties make it past the 3 percent threshold to enter parliament. Up to nine parties stand a realistic chance, ranging from ultra-religious groups to two left-wing splinter parties founded by former top members of the Syriza government.

In May’s elections, held under a proportional representation system, Mitsotakis’ party missed five seats and decided not to try to form a coalition government, preferring to take the risk of a second election.

Sunday’s vote will be held under an electoral system that gives the winning party a bonus of between 25 and 50 seats depending on performance, making it easier for a party to win more than the 151 seats required in the 300-seat parliament to form a government.

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