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Greeks head to polls, no outright winner seen (Update 2)

greece holds parliamentary election
A woman casts her vote at a polling station, during the general election, in Athens, Greece, May 21, 2023. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi

Greeks were voting on Sunday for a new government in a poll likely to be inconclusive, setting the stage for either a coalition administration or new elections in about a month’s time.

While opinion polls have placed the ruling conservative New Democracy party ahead, a change to the country’s electoral system means it is likely to fall short of an absolute majority.

New Democracy, headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is polling between 31-38%, followed by opposition leftist Syriza, trailing by 4-7 points. They are competing for 300 seats in parliament.

Pollsters say a party would need more than 45 percent to win outright, a feat not seen since the landslide wins of the late Socialist Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s and early 1990S.

Voting ends at 1600 GMT.

cost of living crisis has taken centre stage in the campaign, with parties trying to woo voters with pledges to increase the minimum wage and create jobs. Spiralling prices have had a profound impact on Greeks, whose living standards plunged during a decade-long debt crisis.

“We are business owners, we want (the winner) to help us with our business, with our financial situation, so we can survive,” said shopkeeper Vicky, 69, after casting her vote.

Another voter, Antonia Tsekiri, said she wanted stability. “(I) voted for a party that will allow for things not to get worse,” she said.

Greece almost crashed out of the euro at the peak of its debt crisis in 2015. Mitsotakis, elected in 2019, has portrayed himself as a safe pair of hands in his campaign to win the votes of just under 10 million Greeks.

“Today the country’s government responsibility has been passed on to you, the people, but I’m certain that tomorrow an even better day will dawn for our country,” Mitsotakis said after voting.

His administration, however, took the brunt of public outrage over a Feb. 28 rail crash killing 57 people, and a wiretapping scandal targeting politicians.

Another voter, Theodosius, 54, said: “In areas such as democracy, freedom, everyday life, dignity, working conditions, we are going backwards very quickly, we have to try and do something.”

Should no party win outright, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou will give the top three parties a three-day mandate each to form an administration.

“Greeks hold in their hands the ability to do the will of the majority for the country to change course…. to open the way for a progressive coalition government,” said Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.

If they all fail, Sakellaropoulou will appoint a caretaker government to prepare new elections roughly a month later. That vote would revert to a previous system which gives bonus parliamentary seats to frontrunners.

“Today’s result is a referendum either for political stability, or the preamble of a rudderless government, the daily Proto Thema said in a front-page editorial.

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