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Greek conservatives return to power with decisive election win

Alkis Konstantinidis, Reuters | New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis greets supporters after voting during the general election in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2019.

Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis comfortably won Greece's parliamentary elections Sunday, delivering a stinging blow to leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after a tumultuous term as the country coped with a financial crisis.

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With more than 90 percent of votes counted, Mitsotakis' New Democracy party had 39.8 percent of the votes, compared to 31.5 percent for Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party.

The extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, founded by neo-Nazi supporters, crashed out of parliament with just 2.95 percent of the votes, just under the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament – a huge fall of support for a party that had become the third-largest in the Greek legislature during the country's financial crisis.

The results indicated Greek voters bucked a recent trend in Europe of citizens rejecting the political mainstream and turning to populist and eurosceptic parties.

"I asked for a strong mandate to change Greece. You offered it generously," Mitsotakis said in his victory speech. "From today, a difficult but beautiful fight begins."

Mitsotakis, 51, vowed to abide by his campaign pledges to cut taxes, attract investment and improve the job market. He had been ahead in opinion polls for three years and managed to build a sizeable lead.

"Greeks deserve better and the time has come for us to prove it," he said.

Mitsotakis was scheduled to be officially sworn in as prime minister Monday, and was expected to announce his Cabinet later in the day.

Electoral blow for Tsipras

Tsipras pledges 'responsible but dynamic' opposition

Tsipras conceded defeat and phoned Mitsotakis to congratulate him.

"The citizens have made their choice. We fully respect the popular vote," Tsipras said in a speech from central Athens.

He said his party now would work to protect the rights of working Greeks as "a responsible but dynamic opposition" to the government.

Tsipras said he hoped New Democracy's return to government "will not lead to vengeance ... particularly toward the significant achievements to protect the social majority and the workers".

'Where is the money going to come from for Mitsotakis' plans?'

The election was the first since Greece emerged from three international bailouts that were dependent on successive governments implementing strict austerity measures, including major tax hikes and spending cuts. The financial crisis saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket, and the economy shrink by a quarter.

Mitsotakis, the son of a former prime minister, brother of a former foreign minister and uncle to a newly elected mayor of Athens, fought during the campaign to shed the image of family privilege.

He pledged to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, to modernise the country's notorious bureaucracy and to cut taxes.

Economic woes, North Macedonia deal

Tsipras, 44, called the election three months ahead of schedule after Syriza suffered a severe defeat in European Union and local elections in May and early June.

He had led his small Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, party to power in 2015 on promises to repeal the austerity of Greece's first two bailouts. But after months of tough negotiations with international creditors that saw Greece nearly crash out of the European Union's joint currency, he was forced to change tack and sign up to a third bailout that imposed spending cuts and tax hikes.

He also cemented a deal with neighbouring North Macedonia under which that country changed its name from plain "Macedonia". Although praised by Western allies, the deal angered many Greeks, who consider use of the term by their neighbour to harbor expansionist aims on the Greek province of the same name.

‘Golden Dawn is not finished’

Meanwhile Nikos Michaloliakos, leader of Greece’s far-right party, admitted defeat in a fiery concession speech.

"We are sending a message to our enemies and so-called friends: Golden Dawn is not finished; get over it. The fight for nationalism continues. We return where we became strong: on the streets and squares, in a tough struggle against Bolshevism and the coming savage capitalism," Michaloliakos told a crowd of supporters.

He attacked both the outgoing prime minister and his incoming successor. Michaloliakos ended his speech with his customary "Hail victory!" – a direct reference to the Nazis' "Sieg heil" salutation.

Golden Dawn had 18 lawmakers in the outgoing 300-member Parliament, having won 6.99 percent of the votes in the last national election, in September 2015.

The party’s weakening become apparent in May's European election, when it recieved only 4.87 percent of the vote and slipped into fifth place among Greece's parties. A new party on the far right, Greek Solution, less extreme and apparently less menacing, may have siphoned away rightist support. It is projected to have 10 seats in the new parliament.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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