Conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is leading in the general election, with a score that should allow him to form a single-party government

Athens (AFP) - Conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is on course to win Greece’s national elections on Sunday with a clear majority, partial results showed, clinching a second straight term with a score that should allow his party to govern alone.

Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party obtained over 40 percent of the vote, well ahead of the leftist Syriza party led by former premier Alexis Tsipras, which had under 18 percent, according to results of 35 percent of the ballot.

The margin would be the widest for the conservatives in almost 50 years, as voters rewarded them for nursing Greece back to economic health after a crippling debt crisis.

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

But having fallen short by five seats in parliament of being able to form a single-party government, the Harvard graduate declined to form a coalition, in effect forcing 9.8 million Greek voters back to the ballot boxes.

Casting his vote earlier Sunday, Mitsotakis, who hails from one of Greece’s most influential political families, said the country was “voting for a second time in a few weeks to get a stable and effective government”.

With a defeat for Tsipras already largely a foregone outcome, the leftist could only ask voters not to give Mitsotakis such a large margin that the conservatives would have free rein without checks and balances in parliament.

But in a blow to Tsipras, early results showed that his party scored even less than in May.

- Achievements -

Mitsotakis became prime minister in 2019, beating his predecessor Tsipras on a vow to put behind 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 were ailing under the burden of heavy taxes imposed by Syriza 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 last year.

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.

Mitsotakis also had licence to spend more under the EU’s more relaxed pandemic-era rules.

He has played up Greece’s newfound economic health in his re-election bid, saying 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 that were awash with job losses, rising payments and companies going bankrupt.

Aris Manopoulos, a shop owner, said he “voted for New Democracy so that the country can advance, and continue to revive economically”.

- Hard right returns -

Although inflation remains a key concern for voters, Tsipras’s call for wage hikes failed to garner momentum.

He remains for many the prime minister who nearly crashed Greece out of the euro, and the leader who reneged on a vow of abolishing austerity to sign 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 Syriza.

“Obviously, it is a very heavy defeat,” said Euclid Tsakalotos, Tsipras’s former finance minister, adding that “a lot of reflection is needed” within Syriza on the party’s future.

To the dismay of centrist parties, Greece’s clear swing to the right also heralds the return of the far right after a four-year hiatus.

Nationalist party Spartiates, which is endorsed by the jailed former spokesman of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, is projected to make it past the three percent threshold for getting into parliament.

Another two small similar parties are also on the brink of obtaining seats.

Ahead of the vote, Mitsotakis had warned against the extreme voices, saying letting them into parliament would only cause “democratic cacophony”.