Greece’s conservative New Democracy are set to win Sunday’s elections but fall just short of a majority for outright victory, initial results say.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s party is heading for 41%, based on half of the vote.
He was well ahead of predecessor Alexis Tsipras’s centre-left Syriza, which is set for just 20%.
Despite its big win, the centre right may opt for a second round of voting rather than forming a coalition.
An initial exit poll indicating a win for the centre right was greeted with cheers at New Democracy headquarters in Athens. As results emerged, it was clear that pre-election polls had underestimated the big margin between the two main parties.
Another of the big winners of the election appeared to be Syriza’s socialist rival Pasok, which the first results gave 12% of the vote.
That would make the party a potential kingmaker in coalition talks in the coming days.
Mr Mitsotakis’s centre right has governed Greece for the past four years, and can boast that the country’s growth last year was close to 6%.
His pitch to the nation was that only he could be trusted to steer the Greek economy forward and consolidate recent growth. Most Greeks appear to have responded positively – and more than expected.
However, the election campaign was overshadowed by a rail tragedy in February that killed 57 people, many of them students.
Opposition parties highlighted the disaster as a symptom of a dysfunctional state that has been pared down to the bone after years of economic crisis and under-investment.
Panayiotis, 47, voted for New Democracy a few hundred metres from the Acropolis in Athens.
Greece deserved a better form of politics, he told the BBC, but he backed Mr Mitsotakis because he was impressed with his record after four years as prime minister.
Four years ago winning 41% of the vote would have been enough to secure a majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament.
Now it requires more than 45%, because the winning party is no longer entitled to a 50-seat bonus in the first round, making a second round more likely.
If New Democracy’s numbers do hold up, it could form a coalition government with centre-left rivals Pasok. But that’s by no means a given.
Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis may find it difficult to work in government with Mr Mitsotakis because of a wiretap scandal last year.
Mr Androulakis believes the prime minister was aware he was one of the dozens of people targeted with illegal spyware.
The scandal led to the resignation of a nephew of Mr Mitsotakis, who was working as the prime minister’s chief of staff, as well as the head of Greek intelligence.
Mr Mitsotakis may decide to channel all his energies into a second round of voting. That might give him an outright majority and another four years with a cabinet of his choice.__BBC.com