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 general elections this year.
Exit polls and early results gave the Conservatives a lead of up to nine points over Tsipras 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.
Tsipras arrived at the Athens headquarters of his party on Sunday evening without making any comment.
Elected in 2015, the SYRIZA government’s full 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 on the job after sweeping to power and firmly 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 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 name “Macedonia” is an appropriation of Greek heritage by the country’s small Balkan neighbor.
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]