Greeks went to the polls on Sunday for the second time in little over a month to elect a new parliament, with voters expected to give former Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservatives a second term in office.
Sunday’s election is being held in the shadow of a migrant shipwreck on June 14 in which hundreds of people are feared to have perished off southern Greece. One of the worst such disasters in years, it has shown the parties’ divisions over migration.
Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party won an election on May 21, 20 points clear of the leftist Syriza party that ruled Greece from 2015 to 2019.
But it fell just short of the outright majority needed to rule without forming a coalition, prompting the second vote under different rules that make it easier for the winning party to secure a majority in the 300-seat parliament.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) across Greece and will close 12 hours later, with results expected by around 1700 GMT.
Opinion polls in recent days have shown New Democracy winning with around 40% of the vote, with Syriza headed by Alexis Tsipras trailing at about 20%.
“I would like them to make an effort for a better Greece in all the sectors, in education, in wages, in jobs, for everything to be fair and right. A better Greece for all of us,” said pensioner Sofia Economopoulou, after voting.
The shipwreck disaster dominated the main rivals’ campaigns for days in the run up to the election.
Rescuers found 104 survivors and recovered 82 bodies but up to 750 people were thought to have been packed on the ramshackle vessel that had sailed from Libya and was heading to Italy. Before it sank, the boat had been shadowed by the Greek coast guard, which said that the occupants refused all offers of help.
Mitsotakis, whose administration has taken a hard stance on migration, has blamed “wretched traffickers” for the disaster and praised the coast guard for rescuing people. Tsipras, who governed Greece during Europe’s 2015-2016 migrant crisis, has questioned why the coast guard did not intervene earlier.
The COVID-19 pandemic and a deadly rail crash in February also exposed the shortcomings of the health and the public transport system.
But a cost of living crisis and economic hardship, that topped voters’ concerns over the past years, returned on the candidates’ agenda just before the repeat election.
Mitsotakis urged Greeks to elect a government with a clear majority.
He has promised to boost revenue from the country’s economically vital tourist industry, create jobs and increase wages to bring them close to the European Union average.
Tsipras said the vote was a “final and crucial” battle, which would determine Greeks’ future over the next four years. In previous elections, he has called on Greeks to vote for his party and prevent the prospect of “an uncontrollable ruling prime minister.”
“What is being determined is whether we will have an uncontrollable government or balance in democracy… on whether we will have a strong opposition that can control the government,” he said after voting on Sunday.