Berliner TageBlatt - Greece votes, PM urges 'stronger' nation

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Greece votes, PM urges 'stronger' nation
Greece votes, PM urges 'stronger' nation / Foto: © AFP

Greece votes, PM urges 'stronger' nation

Greeks voted on Sunday in a general election that could deliver an indecisive outcome with leading candidate Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asking to be returned to power to ensure a "stronger country".


The EU nation is in fairly robust economic health, with unemployment and inflation falling and growth this year projected to reach twice that of the bloc -- a far cry from the throes of a crippling debt crisis a decade ago.

But economic issues remain squarely in focus despite a post-Covid tourism revival that helped Greece book growth of 5.9 percent last year.

Mitsotakis, 55, has urged voters not to squander hard-fought economic stability.

"We are voting for our future, for more and better jobs, for a more efficient health care system, for a stronger country with an important role in Europe and protected borders," he said after casting his ballot along with two of his three children.

But his main opponent, former leftist premier Alexis Tsipras, has warned that the rosy figures belie growing poverty as wages fail to keep pace with rising prices.

Tsipras is seeking a comeback after a first mandate in 2015 to 2019, during which he led rocky negotiations with creditors that nearly crashed Greece out of the euro.

He called on the country to "turn the page on four difficult years" and pick a "fair government for a better future".

Five people were arrested near Karditsa, central Greece, on suspicion of vote fraud after being found illegally in possession of ballots and over 6,000 euros ($6,490) in cash, police said Sunday.

- Horse-trading? -

Close to 10 million Greeks are eligible to cast a ballot, including 440,000 first-time voters.

Opinion polls suggested Mitsotakis held a clear lead of five to seven percentage points.

The cost of living and jobs occupy many voters' minds.

"Life, especially for young people, is very difficult. Unemployment is high, there are no work prospects and salaries vanish at the end of the month," said Athens resident Dora Vasilopoulou, 41.

Retiree Maria Tombabakis, 67, said she was hoping for change but was "not very optimistic".

In Greece's second-biggest city Thessaloniki, Giorgos Antonopoulos, 39, who works at a commercial store, said, "Salaries are used up halfway through the month and nothing is done to address this issue. We work just to survive."

Yet the outcome of the vote is unpredictable, as changes to the electoral rules mean no party is expected to win an outright majority.

The best-performing party could either seek a coalition or turn to another round of votes by early July to determine who governs Greece, depending on the size of its lead.

The outcome could spell over a week of horse-trading, with the socialist party Pasok-Kinal, led by 44-year-old Nikos Androulakis, a potential kingmaker.

By the early evening, turnout had reached 48.76 percent, according to the interior ministry.

- 'Live on coupons' -

Abstentions reached 42 percent in 2019 and with a second vote likely this time, fears had been running high that many could sit out Sunday's ballot.

It is the second general election to pit Mitsotakis, a Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant, against Tsipras, a 48-year-old former communist and trained engineer.

The outgoing premier says he has delivered on his previous electoral promises of lower taxes, tougher immigration rules and steady growth.

But Tsipras has accused Mitsotakis of promising "better jobs and wages, only to have the middle class live on coupons".

Ahead of the vote, Mitsotakis' government came under pressure over a devastating head-on train collision in February that claimed 57 lives in Greece's worst ever rail disaster.

The government initially blamed the accident on human error, even though Greece's notoriously poor rail network has suffered from years of under-investment.

Mitsotakis' tough stance against immigration also came under the spotlight as The New York Times this week published footage allegedly showing Greek coastguards expelling migrants by setting them adrift in the Aegean Sea.

Androulakis, the Pasol-Kinal leader, had been seen as a potential coalition partner for Mitsotakis but things went sour when he discovered he had been under state surveillance.