ATHENS, Greece — It was the most tantalizing of victories. Despite inflicting the heaviest 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 to secure the majority in Parliament he needs to govern alone.
With 99.65% of the votes counted early Monday, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party won 40.79% — twice the leftwing main opposition Syriza’s 20.07% — dominating 58 of the country’s 59 constituencies. Socialist Pasok came in third at 11.46%, while turnout was 61%.
ND’s margin of victory 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.
Athenian Fotis Hatzos said that while he had expected ND’s win, its hammering of the main opposition party took him by surprise.
“What is there to say, (Mitsotakis) destroyed them,” he told The Associated Press.
Markets welcomed what seems to signal the end of the political uncertainty that troubled Greece following the 2009 financial crisis, with the Athens stock exchange general index surging more than 7% at opening Monday and Greek bonds also rallying.
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 June 25 or July 2, 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 if Sunday’s result holds.
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 effectively ruled out coalition talks.
“Together we will take part in the next contest, which starts (Monday), so that in the next elections what voters have already decided – New Democracy governing with a Parliamentary majority – can be mathematically confirmed in the ballot box,” he told cheering supporters outside the party headquarters.
“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.
Government spokesman Akis Skertsos said efforts would be made to hold the new elections as soon as possible.
“The opposition parties’ results don’t leave much room for rounds of talks on government-building,” he told state ERT TV Monday.
Analyst Wolfango Piccoli, who has followed Greek politics for years, said voters prioritized the economy and political stability over everything else.
“ND’s overwhelming performance is largely due to the positive track record on the economic front of the past four years,” the senior political risk analyst at Teneo told the AP. “Syriza’s inability to convey a coherent and credible economic plan also helped PM Mitsotakis and his ND.”
“The outcome of yesterday’s vote creates a window of opportunity for Greece to turn the page and move away from the toxic populist politics that emerged during” the financial crisis, he added.
When 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.
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 the 2009-2018 financial crisis, but his term in office was tarnished by a wiretapping scandal and a railway disaster.
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.” Syriza gained 71 seats in Parliament.
Tsipras, who was prime minister from 2015 to 2019 — riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling amid the financial crisis — 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.”
Idyli Tsakiri contributed to this report.