ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greeks voted yesterday in the first Parliamentary election since their country emerged from three successive international bailouts still struggling with a crippling nearly decade-long financial crisis.
Opinion polls have suggested Greeks are set to defy the recent European trend of increasing support for populist parties, with conservative opposition party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis a clear favourite to win.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the vote three months earlier than originally planned after his left-wing Syriza party suffered a stinging defeat in European and local elections in May and early June.
Tsipras, 44, hoped to overturn a sizeable gap in opinion polls running up to yesterday’s vote. He has increasingly been appealing to the middle class, which has been struggling under a heavy tax burden, much of it imposed by his government.
“It’s a crucial battle, we fight it with optimism, we fight it with determination until the last minute,” Tsipras said after casting his ballot in central Athens in the morning. “So that the sacrifices and efforts of our nation do not go to waste, so the course of our country forward is not interrupted.”
Tsipras appealed to young people to turn up at the ballot boxes and “not leave the crucial decision for their lives and their future to others.” The voting age has been extended to 16 for the first time in national elections, provided the voter turns 17 within 2019.
But Mitsotakis, the 51-year-old son of a former prime minister and brother of a former foreign minister, has managed to build a sizeable lead in opinion polls that he has held over the past three years. He pledges to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, modernise the country’s notorious bureaucracy and cut taxes, and has fought to shed the image of family privilege.
“Today voters take the decision for their future in their hands,” Mitsotakis said after voting. “I am sure that tomorrow, a better day dawns for our nation.”
Yesterday’s vote comes as the country gradually emerges from a brutal financial crisis that saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket, and Greece’s economy slashed by a quarter.