Greece: Conservatives rise to power as Tsipras concedes defeat

Last Updated: Mon, Jul 08, 2019 16:03 hrs
Greek PM Tsipras waits to welcome European Council President Tusk at the Maximos Mansion in Athens

Athens: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday conceded defeat to his opponent Kyriakos Mitsotakis after exit polls showed the latter's centre-right New Democracy (ND) party on track to win the parliamentary elections in the nation.

With 75 per cent of votes counted, the ND party was leading with 39.6 per cent of total votes heading towards a majority in the 300-member Greek Parliament, while Tsipras' leftist Syriza was behind with 31.6 per cent of total votes, CNN reported.

In a live television broadcast, Tsipras conceded defeat saying, "The result has been determined ... but we will be back."

In his speech, Mitsotakis said, "I know the difficulties lying ahead. I don't request a grace period because we don't have time for it. Transparency and meritocracy will return to Greece and our country's voice will be heard in Europe."

He said that his first priority after taking office would be to boost the stagnant economy by slashing taxes and regulations and attracting investment.

Mitsotakis is set to take oath as the new Prime Minister of Greece at 1 pm (local time) on Monday.

He is the son of former premier Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who ruled the country from 1990 to 1993.

Between 1986 and 1995, Mitsotakis studied in the United States -- receiving degrees from Harvard and Stanford.

He was working in the banking sector before joining politics.

Known to be a liberal reformist, the 51-year-old ND leader has served as minister of administrative reform from 2013 and 2015.

Mitsotakis has vowed to change Greece's global image in the wake of an acute economic crisis in the last nine years, which saw its economy down by 25 per cent, the worst contraction for a developed country since the end of World War II.

The Syriza party had called for a snap election in May after it fared poorly in the European Parliament polls.

Sunday's preliminary results show the widespread discontent by the people with Tsipras after four years of populist reforms he implemented in exchange for Greece's international bailout to infuse life into the sluggish economy and to prevent the country from departing from the EU's monetary union, popularly known as 'Grexit'.

Apart from these measures, the move to change neighbouring Macedonia's name as 'North Macedonia' also led to Tsipras losing popular support, despite the fact that the decades-long naming dispute was finally resolved.

Mitsotakis: Pro-business 'steamroller'

Mitsotakis is a hard-nosed reformer from a conservative political dynasty with controversial civil service job cuts on his resume.

Three years after taking over the leadership of the conservative ND party, he has promised to ‘steamroll’ obstacles to business.

He has pledged to create ‘better’ jobs through growth, foreign investment and tax cuts.

His critics argue that his pro-business platform and promised tax cuts can only credibly come at the expense of social benefits to crisis-hit families.

In his sole ministerial stint in charge of administrative reform in 2014, he was tasked with eliminating 15,000 civil service posts under pressure from Greece's creditors.

The downsizing was cut short by elections, but Mitsotakis's tag as a hatchet man has endured.

Alexis Tsipras's dream of leading Greece into the post-bailout era came crashing down on Sunday.

In a defeat blamed by analysts on a middle-class revolt against heavy taxation, Tsipras leaves the post as the longest-running PM in the country's decade-long crisis.

After winning a series of gambles -- including an austerity referendum, resignation and re-election in 2015, and a confidence vote as recently as May -- his luck finally ran out.

"We took difficult decisions and today we paid the political cost," a chastened Tsipras said in a concession speech.

"We will work hard to make this defeat a temporary one," he said, adding that his party would "dynamically" resist efforts to roll back labour rights.

Tsipras tried everything to avert defeat. He warned voters that a victory by the conservative opposition New Democracy party would bring back the hated International Monetary Fund from which he had just 'liberated' the country.

On the policy side, Tsipras touted his party's track record in reducing unemployment by around eight points and raising the minimum wage for the first time since 2012.

His government also rolled out a batch of last-minute tax cuts in May.
It was still not enough to turn the tide as Mitsotakis promised a swifter turn-around with lower taxes.

Tsipras was Greece's first avowed atheist PM and its youngest in over a century.

He had stormed to power in 2015 with promises to eliminate austerity.
Instead, Greece's creditors forced him to accept a third bailout following a disastrous six-month negotiation that nearly saw the country pushed out of the euro.

In the four years that followed, Syriza sharply increased taxes to build a fiscal surplus demanded by the creditors, but also promoted income redistribution programmes to help the poor with rent, electricity benefits and school meals.

The economy inched out of recession and unemployment fell from nearly 26 percent when Syriza took power to around 18 percent this year.

Under Tsipras, Greece also took major steps on equal rights reforms.

At a time of hardening views towards migrants in Europe, Tsipras's administration also tried to integrate asylum-seekers.

But resistance from other EU countries left Greek island camps full to bursting with desperate refugees, often living in appalling conditions.