Thursday 22 August 2019

Greek PM concedes defeat in election after exit polls show conservatives' comfortable win

Supporters of New Democracy conservative party are seen at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Supporters of New Democracy conservative party are seen at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A supporters of New Democracy conservative party reacts at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A supporters of New Democracy conservative party reacts at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Supporters of New Democracy conservative party are seen at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accompanied by his daughter Dafni arrives at the party's headquarters in Athens, Greece July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is greeted by supporters as he arrives at the party's headquarters in Athens, Greece July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrives at the party's headquarters in Athens, Greece July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is greeted by supporters as he arrives at the party's headquarters in Athens, Greece July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
A woman leaves a voting booth during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Elpida Kafantari
A woman leaves a voting booth during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Elpida Kafantari
Greek Prime Minister and Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras greets supporters at a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
Greek opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis casts his ballot at a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Greek opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis waves to his supporters outside of a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Greek opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis waves to his supporters outside of a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019.
Greek Prime Minister and Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras enters in a car after casts his ballot at a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis waves at supporters after voting at a polling station, during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. Yiorgos Kontarinis/Eurokinissi via REUTERS
A woman holds her child as she casts her ballot at a polling station, during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets a supporter outside a polling station, during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
People are inside a voting booth at a polling station for the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Elena Becatoros and Derek Gatopoulos

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has conceded defeat after a partial vote count showed opposition conservatives had comfortably won the first parliamentary election since the country emerged from its international bailouts.

The conservative New Democracy party of Kyriakos Mitsotakis had 39.7pc of the vote compared to Mr Tsipras' Syriza party with 31.5pc after nearly 60pc of ballots were tallied.

The result was a stinging blow to Mr Tsipras, who had insisted he could overturn a sizeable gap in opinion polls running up to the election, which he asked to hold several months before his term expires in the fall.

"The citizens have made their choice. We fully respect the popular vote," Mr Tsipras said in his concession speech from central Athens, adding that he had called Mr Mitsotakis to congratulate him.

A supporters of New Democracy conservative party reacts at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A supporters of New Democracy conservative party reacts at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

"I want to assure the Greek people that... we will protect the rights of working people with a responsible but dynamic opposition," he said.

"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."

Supporters of New Democracy conservative party are seen at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Supporters of New Democracy conservative party are seen at the party's main election kiosk after the announcement of the first exit polls in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Official projections based on early partial results also showed the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party teetering on the lower side of the 3pc threshold needed to be in parliament. Golden Dawn became the third-largest party in parliament during Greece's financial crisis,

Greece is gradually emerging from the crippling financial crisis that saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket and the economy shrink by a quarter.

A woman leaves a voting booth during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Elpida Kafantari
A woman leaves a voting booth during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Elpida Kafantari

Greece was dependent for survival until last summer on three successive bailouts and had to take deep reforms such as massive spending cuts and tax hikes to qualify for the rescue loans.

Mr Tsipras, 44, called the election three months ahead of schedule after his left-wing Syriza party suffered a severe defeat in European Union and local elections in May and early June.

To gain ground, he increasingly appealed to a middle class struggling under a heavy tax burden, much of it imposed by his government.

Mr Tsipras led his small Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, party to power in 2015 on promises to repeal the austerity measures of Greece's first two bailouts.

Greek Prime Minister and Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras greets supporters at a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
Greek Prime Minister and Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras greets supporters at a polling station in Athens, on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

But after months of tumultuous negotiations with international creditors that saw Greece nearly crash out of the European Union's joint currency, he was forced to change tack, signing up to a third bailout and imposing the accompanying spending cuts and tax hikes.

He also cemented a deal with neighbouring North Macedonia under which that country changed its name from plain Macedonia. Although praised by Western allies, the deal angered many Greeks, who consider use of the term harbours expansionist aims on the Greek province of the same name.

Mr Mitsotakis, 51, the son of a former prime minister, brother of a former foreign minister and uncle to a newly elected mayor of Athens, had been ahead in opinion polls for three years and managed to build a sizeable lead.

He fought to shed the image of family privilege and had pledged to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, to modernise the country's notorious bureaucracy and to cut taxes.

"Today, voters take the decision for their future in their hands," Mr Mitsotakis said after voting. "I am sure that tomorrow, a better day dawns for our nation."

Official projections based on early partial results showed six parties entering parliament, with New Democracy holding 158 of the body's 300 seats, a comfortable governing majority.

Golden Dawn was hovering at around 2.96pc, said Yiannis Theodoropoulos of SingularLogic, the company compiling the official election results for the Interior Ministry.

If it manages to push above the 3pc threshold to enter parliament, that would reduce New Democracy's number of seats from the 158 it was projected to have.

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