Mitsotakis has warned that a third election is possible if he fails to get the overall majority he is seeking

Athens (AFP) - Greek voters head to the polls again Sunday in an election where conservative front-runner Kyriakos Mitsotakis is seeking a second term and an absolute parliamentary majority to form a “stable government”.

Polling stations opened for the second round of general elections in five weeks at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) while the first exit polls are expected at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT} when polls close.

The 55-year-old Harvard graduate, who steered Greece from the coronavirus pandemic back to two consecutive years of strong growth, had already scored a thumping win in an election just a month ago.

But having fallen short of five seats in parliament to be able to form a single-party government, Mitsotakis chose to ask 9.8 million Greek voters back to the ballot boxes.

Mitsotakis, who hails from one of Greece’s most influential political families, had trounced his next nearest rival, former leftist prime minister Alexis Tsipras, by more than 20 percentage points in the last vote.

As election rules this time round would accord up to 50 bonus seats to the winner of the vote, Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party is widely projected to emerge victorious.

The main danger facing him would be a larger no-show rate at the polls because of the perceived foregone outcome.

Urging his supporters to turn up at the polls, he has warned of the possibility of a third election if he fails to get a majority.

“I hope we don’t have to meet again in early August,” he told Skai TV hours before a campaigning blackout began Saturday, adding that “this is no joke”.

“All the gains we have made must be consolidated and continued,” he said.

- Achievements -

Mitsotakis beat Tsipras in a landslide victory in 2019 to take Greece’s top job on a vow to end a decade of economic crisis.

That election was the first in the EU nation’s post-bailout era, at a time when businesses and workers alike were ailing under the burden of heavy taxes imposed by Tsipras’s Syriza party to build a budget surplus demanded by international creditors.

Tsipras has already lost four elections to Mitsotakis: another loss could cost him the leadership of his Syriza party

Over the next four years, tax burdens were eased, and while the Covid-19 pandemic wiped out Greece’s vital tourism revenues, the country has since bounced back strongly with growth of 8.3 percent in 2021 and 5.9 percent in 2022.

That was helped in part by over 57 billion euros ($62 billion) dished out by the government to cushion the impact of the health crisis and inflation.

Analysts note, however, that Mitsotakis had licence to spend under the EU’s more relaxed pandemic-era rules.

Mitsotakis has played up Greece’s newfound economic health, underlining that on his watch, his conservatives have cut 50 taxes while increasing national output by 29 billion euros and overseeing the largest infrastructure upgrades since 1975.

The message appeared to have gone down well with voters weary of Greece’s debt years, when headlines were awash with job losses, rising payments and companies going bankrupt.

Maria Frangi, a 40-year-old lawyer, called New Democracy the “party that managed to put Greece back on the international scene, and with its economic achievements, turning it into a real player in the EU”.

- ‘Blank cheque’ -

Tsipras, whose call for wage hikes has so far failed to garner momentum, has warned against giving Mitsotakis a “blank cheque” to carry out a “hidden agenda” of policies unwinding social benefit policies.

Yet Tsipras remains for many Greeks the prime minister who nearly crashed Greece out of the euro, and the leader who made a dramatic U-turn from a vow of abolishing austerity to signing the country on to more painful bailout terms.

Having already lost four electoral contests to Mitsotakis, a fifth defeat on Sunday could end up costing Tsipras his top job at his Syriza party.

Most devastating for Tsipras is that many young people, who traditionally vote left, deserted them for the conservatives in the May 21 vote.

For Fenia Georgiakouda, 29, the left needs to “listen to the concerns of young people and try to mobilise them with new ways of action and participation” if it is to see a revival.