Greece gears for election on May 21: How the system works

Greece gears for election on May 21: How the system works

Greece will hold a parliamentary election in May, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday, with the country gearing up for a vote which is unlikely to produce an outright winner immediately.

The conservative leader, whose term ends officially in July, said a national election will be held on May 21.

Elections will be held under a proportional representation system, which makes it hard for any candidate to win outright, setting the stage for a second round of voting.

The system

Parties need to secure at least 3% of the vote to enter Parliament for a four-year term.

Τhe share of the vote needed to secure a majority with 151 seats in the 300-member Parliament depends on how the overall result is divided between parties.

Under this system, the threshold for outright victory depends on how many votes go to parties that fail to clear the 3% entry benchmark. The votes of the parties that do not cross the 3% threshold are divided among those that crossed it on a proportional basis.

According to pollsters, the leading candidate may need to secure about 46% of the vote to win outright. Polls show no party comes close to the required threshold.

Greece has not seen a 46% vote result in elections in three decades. In 1993 Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou came to power with 46.88% of the vote, replacing his main rival, Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ father, Konstantinos, who also won a 1990 election with 46.89%.

Greece abolished a 50-seat premium granted to the winning party in 2016, a reform suggested by the then leftist government which introduced the proportional electoral system believing it to be fairer.

Opinion polls

So far, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party is leading in opinion polls over the main opposition, the leftist SYRIZA party that ruled Greece in 2015-2019 at the peak of its debt crisis. But a deadly train crash on February 28 showed its lead over SYRIZA shrinking.

Polls since January give New Democracy up to 35.6% and SYRIZA up to 30.7%. The Socialist PASOK party ranks third with its ratings ranging between 9.3% and 13.9% in recent months.

In each poll, however, no party comes close to the 46% percent widely believed to be needed to establish a majority in the 300-seat Parliament.

No majority

If there is no outright winner, President Katerina Sakellaropoulou gives the leader of the biggest party a three-day mandate to form a coalition. Should this fail, the exploratory mandate is handed to the second party, and then to the third.

If the parties cannot agree, the president holds a final meeting with party leaders to form a government or an interim government that will call elections.

If they still cannot agree, she appoints a caretaker government to call new elections. A senior judicial official, who must be the head of one of Greece’s top three courts, is appointed caretaker prime minister.

New elections

Political analysts estimate that the first election is not likely to yield a government and a second election will be held within approximately 40 days after the first vote, most likely in early July.

In that election, the system will revert to semi-proportional representation, with a sliding scale seat bonus, increasing the chances of a party to win outright.

Under that semi-proportional system, the winning party is awarded a bonus of 20 seats outright if it gets at least 25% of the vote, and can get up to 50 seats if it gets about 40% of the vote.


– Over 9 million Greeks aged over 17 are eligible to vote.

– Members of parliament are elected from lists of party candidates and for geographical constituencies. Voters in the wider Athens region and Piraeus, where a third of the country’s 11 million population live, elect 89 deputies.

Current Parliament

Parties in the current Parliament (with number of seats):

New Democracy, center-right. Leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis (156)

SYRIZA, left wing. Leader Alexis Tsipras (88)

KKE, communist. Leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas (15)

Hellenic Solution, right-wing. Leader Kyriakos Velopoulos(10)

PASOK-KINAL, center-left. Leader Nikos Androulakis (22)

Mera 25, leftist. Leader Yanis Varoufakis (6)


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