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Conservatives take decisive lead in Greek European vote

May 26, 2019 at 11:08pm
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Greece’s opposition New Democracy party took a commanding lead over the ruling leftist Syriza in European Parliament elections on Sunday, early results showed, in a blow to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who is facing national elections this year.

Exit polls and early declarations gave the Conservatives a lead of up to nine points over Tsipras’s Syriza, which has struggled to bounce back from austerity measures introduced as part of a third bailout, and a deeply unpopular agreement that resolved a long-running name dispute with North Macedonia.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis demanded Tsipras resign, saying he had lost the popular mandate. Tsipras was due to make a statement after 2000 GMT.

“The Prime Minister must assume his responsibilities. For the good of the country he must resign and the country should hold national elections, the soonest possible,” Mitsotakis said.

Elected in 2015, the Syriza government’s term expires in October. One analyst said he did not expect Tsipras to call early elections.

“Five months, in politics, is a long time. Tsipras believes the economy will improve,” said Thanos Veremis, professor of political history at Athens University.

Once a leftist firebrand, Tsipras, 44, mellowed after sweeping to power and telling the country’s creditors to back off in 2015.

But he was forced into a painful new bailout months later, when faced with a choice of that or being turfed out of the euro zone and into the financial wilderness. The capitulation went down badly with many voters.

Greece emerged from close financial supervision by its lenders in August 2018. The government this month introduced tax cuts and pension payouts, going some way toward unwinding some of the austerity measures.

The handouts may have averted a steeper defeat in the European election, Veremis said.

Tsipras’ decision to broker a deal ending a name dispute with North Macedonia earned kudos from his European partners, but proved deeply unpopular with many Greeks.

His coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, pulled out of the government in January, triggering a confidence vote in parliament that Tsipras nonetheless won comfortably.

For most, use of the Macedonia name is an appropriation of Greek heritage by the country’s small neighbour. Regardless, Tsipras signed the name-change deal in June, on the banks of the Prespes Lake bordering Albania, Greece and North Macedonia.

“Syriza committed suicide in Prespes,” Kammenos, his former coalition partner, tweeted on Sunday evening.

(Reuters)