Exit polls in Greece’s general election indicate conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has won a comfortable victory over left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
The exit polls from Sunday’s election predicted Mr Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party would win enough seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament to form a government without needing to enter a coalition with another party.
The vote is Greece’s first parliamentary election since the country emerged from three successive international bailouts and as it continues to struggle from a crippling financial crisis of nearly a decade.
The election was held three months earlier than originally planned after Mr Tsipras saw his support erode during European elections.
And it comes as the country gradually emerges from a brutal nearly decade-long financial crisis that saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket, and Greece’s economy slashed by a quarter.
Greece was dependent for survival until last summer on international bailouts, and had to impose deep reforms, including massive spending cuts and tax hikes, to qualify for the rescue loans.
Mr Tsipras led his small Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, party to victory in 2015 elections on promises to repeal the austerity measures of Greece’s first two bailouts.
But after months of tumultuous negotiations with the country’s 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 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, son of a former prime minister and brother of a former foreign minister, was pledging to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, modernise the country’s notorious bureaucracy and cut taxes.
Speaking after the exit polls, Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos said: “This is a big win for New Democracy. People believed in their program despite it being vague.”
He told state-run ERT television that supporters of Syriza and the government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras “should be proud of our achievements”.
He added: “We underestimated the scale of the opposition toward Syriza.”
Official election projections showed the New Democracy party winning 39.8% of the vote, compared to the governing Syriza party’s 31.6%.
The projections also had the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn teetering on the lower side of the 3% threshold needed to enter parliament.
Yiannis Theodoropoulos of SingularLogic, the company compiling official election results for the Greek Interior Ministry, said the projections showed New Democracy holding 158 of the 300 seats in Greece’s parliament, a comfortable governing majority.
Support for Golden Dawn hovered at around 2.96%.
If the party managed to hit the minimum threshold and become the seventh party in parliament, it would reduce the number of seats held by New Democracy members.