Greek voters cast their ballots on Sunday in the country’s first national election of the post-bailout era, with leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party expected to be ousted by the conservative opposition.
After nearly five years in power, Greece’s longest-serving crisis premier — as well as the youngest in more than a century — is battling to overcome a 10-point deficit in opinion polls amid widespread dissatisfaction after years of high taxation.
Polling stations opened at 07.00 am local time (0400 GMT) and will close at 07.00 pm. Exit polls are expected soon after and the first results should come in around 09.00 pm.
With three new opinion polls predicting a clear victory for the conservative New Democracy party, Tsipras called for supporters to mobilise, hoping for a turn around.
After voting in Kypseli, near the centre of Athens, with his supporters cheering, the premier called on young people “not to leave this crucial decision for their lives in the hands of others”.
With temperatures forecast to reach 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), all parties are concerned about the impact the heat will have on turnout.
“What is at stake is too important for someone not to vote and instead go to the beach,” 36-year-old Aphrodite told AFP, as she cast her vote in the bohemian downtown neighborhood of Exarcheia.
“Greece is exiting ten years of crisis and the new government will have the heavy task to give a chance to the country to recover completely or to sink”, she added.
Opinion polls have consistently forecast that New Democracy headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a scion of a leading Greek political family, will win an absolute majority in Sunday’s legislative elections.
“Today is a big celebration of democracy. Greek women and men hold the fate of this land in their hands,” Mitsotakis said after voting in an Athens suburb.
Battle for the premiership
Some members of a small far-left party protested outside the polling station where Mitsotakis voted, but their shouts were drowned out by New Democracy supporters calling their leader the new prime minister.
“I hope that from tomorrow we will be able to breathe with relief. To take a deep breath. If Mitsotakis does what he promises,” Athinodoros, a 48-year-old self-employed worker voting in Athens told AFP.
Tsipras called the snap election in June after losing both European and local elections to Mitsotakis’ New Democracy in the space of two weeks.
He has accused Mitsotakis — who was part of a 2012-2014 crisis government — of “disastrous” mismanagement that brought hundreds of thousands of job losses and business failures.
Mitsotakis, who took over New Democracy three years ago, is a 51-year-old Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant.
He has pledged to create “better” jobs through growth, foreign investment and tax cuts and to “steamroll” obstacles to business.
Tsipras, on the other hand, touts his party’s track record in reducing unemployment 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.
But Tsipras has been widely criticised for campaigning as an anti-austerity crusader before eventually accepting a third EU bailout.
According to the latest polls, conducted for the Ant1 tv channel, New Democracy is expected to gain between 151 to 165 seats in the 300-seat parliament. Syriza meanwhile is forecast to fall from 144 seats to between 70 and 82. The biggest party picks the premier.
The vote is Greece’s third poll in as many months, and the country’s first mid-summer general election since 1928 is unlikely to attract strong participation.
In May, fewer than 59 percent of registered voters cast ballots for European Parliament polls and the first round of local and regional elections.
Two new smaller parties are vying to enter parliament for the first time, hoping to reach the three percent threshold that would allow them a seat.
The MeRA25 anti-austerity party has been set up by Tsipras’s former maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, while Greek Solution, is a nationalist, pro-Russia party formed by former journalist and TV salesman Kyriakos Velopoulos.
Polls show that each new party could win between nine and 10 MPs.
Greek Solution has been buoyed by backlash against Tsipras’ controversial agreement with North Macedonia that ended a bitter 27-year dispute over the country’s name.
The fledgling party has also picked up voters from neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which is in steep decline amid an ongoing trial for the 2013 murder of an anti-fascist rapper, allegedly carried out with the knowledge of senior Golden Dawn members.