Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has conceded defeat in a general election to Kyriakos Mitsotakis after exit polls indicated a clear victory for centre-right New Democracy (ND) party.
“The citizens have made their choice. We fully respect the popular vote,” Tsipras said in his concession speech from central Athens, adding that he had phoned Mitsotakis to congratulate him.
“I want to assure the Greek people that … we will protect the rights of working people with a responsible but dynamic opposition. I wish and hope that the return of New Democracy to government will not lead to vengeance … particularly toward the significant achievements to protect the social majority and the workers.”
The conservative ND party was projected to win 39.8 percent of the vote, according to a partial count presented by a Greek Interior Ministry spokesperson.
That would translate into 154 of the Parliament’s 300 seats, allowing the opposition party to move into government without the need to cooperate with others.
Its parliamentary clout could still rise, depending on how many smaller parties clear the three-percent hurdle to sit in the Athens legislature.
The early count puts Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party on 31.5 percent.
“Greek women and men, everywhere in the country, everywhere in the world where Hellenism lives and prospers. Tonight the Greek people have spoken. And their verdict was clear, our society wants us to go forward in unity,” said Mitsotakis later on Sunday.
“Everyone, with no one left behind. Most of all, it wants growth, jobs and security for Greece to become strong again. Like we deserve. I would like to thank the Greek citizens for their trust. I will be a Prime Minister for all Greek people.”
In the September 2015 election, Syriza won 149 seats and the ND 76.
Sunday’s vote shows the popular discontent with Tsipras after four years of austerity brought by reforms that he was forced to implement in return for an international bailout of the country. Greece sank into a deep financial crisis in 2010 and emerged from the bailout programmes only last August.
A broadly unpopular name agreement with neighbouring North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, further eroded Tsipras’ support, despite it ending a diplomatic dispute spanning nearly three decades and earning him the co-nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
‘Difficult to see where this is heading’
Mitsotakis, 51, campaigned on the promise of further reforms with a focus on better economic, administrative and social efficiency. He promised more jobs, fewer taxes and generally, as he said it, “a
bigger cake to share”.
Panos Polyzoidis, a political analyst in Athens, told Al Jazeera that an ND win could signify “a return to normality … [and] possibly the end of the crisis, in political terms”.
“That crisis has cost most political forces a lot in influence. New Democracy is one of the parties that survived. It also seems that Syriza is a party that came to the limelight because of the crisis and will probably also survive the post-crisis period,” said Polyzoidis.
“It’s very difficult to see where this is heading,” he said. “The bailout programmes have ended, but austerity has not ended,” Polyzoidis added. “New Democracy has been promising growth-orientated policies, lowering taxes, lowering social security contributions. It all remains to be seen how feasible these are because the fiscal restrains remain.”
According to official figures, 9,903,864 people, including nearly 520,000 first-time voters, were registered to cast ballots. Greeks living abroad were not allowed to vote.
Is it the end of populism in Greece?
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies