Greek EU vote slams Tsipras, rewards conservatives: exit polls

Athens (AFP) –


Greek voters on Sunday slammed Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' Syriza party in EU parliament and local elections, giving the opposition conservative New Democracy party a solid lead, exit polls and early results indicated.

The exit polls for European parliament elections gave New Democracy 33.5 percent compared to 25 percent for Syriza, according to a combined survey by the five main private TV stations.

And early results from 15 percent of polling stations gave New Democracy a lead of over eight percent in local elections too.

"Greece has sent a strong message... the people have withdrawn their confidence," said New Democracy head Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

"Greece needs a new government... the prime minister must assume his responsibilities, he must resign for the good of the country," he said.

Tsipras was expected to make a national address later on Sunday.

National elections are scheduled to take place by October, but there was speculation on Sunday that Tsipras could call a snap election in late June.

The socialist Kinal party came third at 7.7 percent, followed by the Communist KKE party at 5.5 percent, according to the voter survey.

Greece's neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn fell to an estimated 4.5 percent -- nearly five points short of its previous showing in 2014 -- with a new nationalist party, Greek Solution, making gains at their expense.

In a first for the country, over 100,000 Greeks aged 17 were given the vote.

In local elections, early results from around 14 percent of polling stations showed New Democracy candidates in the lead, or securing outright, the majority of Greece's 13 regions.

Participation was around 56 percent.

New Democracy's candidate for mayor of Athens Costas Bakoyannis -- the grandson of late prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis -- also holds a commanding lead over rivals ahead of a second round on June 2, as does the conservative mayoral candidate in Thessaloniki.

Tsipras had earlier called Sunday's ballot a "vote of confidence" and said voters "had a responsibility" to defend economic gains and social benefits under his four-year administration.

"Today is the day to protect economic recovery and the measures taken in support of the social majority," the PM said after voting.

"Over the last month, we see our people going to rallies, morale is higher than a few months ago. And this will work in our favour," finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told state TV ERT.

The PM recently announced sweeping tax cuts on food and dining and energy and hotel accommodation and unveiled an extra monthly stipend for the country's poorest pensioners.

Greece exited its third and final international bailout in August 2018, a milestone in its progress from the catastrophe that had engulfed the country.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast growth of 2.4 percent in Greece for 2019.

Greece has consistently posted better-than-expected fiscal results under Tsipras, who abandoned an anti-austerity stance and reached a working arrangement with Greece's creditors after nearly crashing the country out of the euro in 2015.