Greece votes in parliamentary polls for the second time in five weeks

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By Webdesk

Greeks are voting to elect a new parliament for the second time in just over a month, and voters are expected to give former Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservative party a second term.

Polling stations across the country opened at 07:00 (04:00 GMT) on Sunday and close 12 hours later. Results are expected around 5pm GMT.

The mood is overshadowed about a week ago by a shipwreck off the coast of western Greece in which hundreds of refugees and migrants died or went missing.

But the disaster is unlikely to significantly affect the overall outcome as Greeks are expected to focus on domestic economic issues.

Mitsotakis, 55, is looking forward to a second four-year term as prime minister after his New Democracy party won by a huge margin in May but failed to secure enough parliamentary seats to form a government.

With a new electoral law favoring the winning party with bonus seats, he hopes to win enough seats to form a strong majority in the 300-member parliament.

The new electoral system awards the winning party a bonus of between 25 and 50 seats depending on its performance, making it easier for a party to win more than the required 151 seats in parliament to form a government.

Greece election
New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks at an election rally at Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, June 23, 2023 [George Vitsaras/EPA-EFE]

His main rival is Alexis Tsipras, the 48-year-old head of the left-wing Syriza party who served as prime minister from 2015 to 2019 during some of the most turbulent years of Greece’s nearly decade-long financial crisis.

Tsipras fared poorly in May’s elections, coming in by far second, 20 percentage points behind New Democracy. He has been trying to rally his voter base, a task made more difficult by splinter parties formed by some of his former associates.

Soundings in shadow of boat tragedy

Sunday’s election comes after hundreds of refugees and migrants died or went missing in southern Greece when an overcrowded fishing boat capsized and sank en route from Libya to Italy, sparking criticism over Greek authorities’ handling of the rescue.

But the disaster, one of the worst in the Mediterranean in recent years, has done little to erase Mitsotakis’ 20-point lead in polls over Tsipras, with most voters worried about the economy.

As Greece gradually recovers from its brutal financial crisis, voters seem happy to return to power as a prime minister who drove economic growth and lower unemployment.

A Harvard graduate, Mitsotakis 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 cousin is the mayor of Athens. He has pledged to rebrand Greece as a pro-business and fiscally responsible member of the Eurozone.

The strategy has worked so far: New Democracy routed leftist opponents in May and seized crucial socialist strongholds on the island of Crete and in lower-income areas around Athens, some of them for the first time.

Trailing in opinion polls and due to his particularly poor showing in May’s elections, Tsipras must fight for his political survival. His political campaign leading up to the previous election was seen by many as too negative and focused heavily on scandals that hit the Mitsotakis government late in its term.

Despite the scandals, including revelations of wiretapping targeting senior politicians and journalists, and a fatal train crash on February 28 that exposed poor security measures, Tsipras failed to make any significant gains against Mitsotakis.

Whether the Conservative leader will succeed in forming a government, and how strong it will be, could depend on how many parties pass the 3 percent threshold to enter parliament.

No less than nine parties have a real chance, varying 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 system of proportional representation, Mitsotakis’s party fell five seats short, and he decided not to try to form a coalition government, preferring to take his chances with a runoff election.

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