Greek Elections: Prime Minister Loses Re-Election to Center Right


ATHENS — Greek voters turned out their leftist prime minister in elections that came after a decade of grueling economic austerity, casting their lot with a resurgent center-right New Democracy party.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called his opponent, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a Harvard-educated former banker and son of a former prime minister, to concede defeat.

Initial results showed that Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party, which has ruled Greece for the past four years, had suffered a major defeat at the hands of New Democracy.

“Citizens made their choice,” Mr. Tsipras said. “The popular verdict will be perfectly respected. I just spoke with Kyriakos Mitsotakis to congratulate him on his democratic victory.”

The prime minister declared that “in a democracy, a change in government isn’t strange” and said, “I will receive him tomorrow to hand over the prime ministerial office.

Speaking shortly after Mr. Tsipras’s public concession, Mr. Mitsotakis tried to strike a conciliatory note.

“The people’s will is clear: society want us to push forward together,” he said. “I’ll work to convince you that I’m everyone’s prime minister. We are too few to be split.”

Mr. Tsipras once walked Greece to the brink by calling an effective referendum on its euro membership, and then walked it back when he refused to heed its outcome. In July 2015, he convinced Greeks to reject another international bailout and the onerous austerity that came with it — then acquiesced and fell into line.

He followed the demands of the program drawn up by international policymakers in the European Commission in Brussels and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, whipping his party members in line to vote for more austerity.

The result was a semblance of stability in Greece’s economy — it is today growing at a tepid 2 percent — and the enduring enmity of many voters. Unemployment continued to hover above 18%, a remarkably high level for a European country.

Mr. Tsipras pushed through some privatization, cut pensions, raised taxes and trimmed spending to meet stringent fiscal targets. But the Greek public sector, often criticized as bloated and as slowing down innovation and entrepreneurship, was not revolutionized. Now, it will fall to Mr. Mitsotakis to cut it back and modernize it, if he can.

Yianna Elafrou, 55, a schoolteacher, is a one-time socialist supporter who switched to Mr. Tsipras during the crisis years after seeing her salary cut several times. This time, she said, she gave her vote to Mr. Mitsotakis.

“We tried them, it didn’t work,” she said of Syriza after casting her ballot at a polling center in Athens.

New Democracy may not capture her political beliefs, she said, “but it’s the lesser of two evils.”

Source : Nytimes