1. ITV Report

Greeks vote in first general election since bailouts

A woman casts her vote in the Greece elections. Credit: AP

Greeks are voting in the first parliamentary election since their country emerged from three successive international bailouts.

The vote was called three months earlier than originally planned after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras suffered a stinging defeat in European and local elections in May and early June.

Opinion polls suggest Greeks are set to defy the recent European trend of increasing support for populist parties, with conservative opposition party New Democracy’s leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis a clear favourite to win.

Greek Prime Minister and Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras. Credit: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Sunday’s vote comes as the country gradually emerges from a financial crisis that saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket, and Greece’s economy slashed by a quarter.

Greece was dependent for survival until last summer on international bailouts, and had to impose deep reforms, including massive spending cuts and tax hikes, to qualify for the rescue loans.

Mr Tsipras, 44, says his Syriza party can overturn the sizeable gap in opinion polls and has increasingly been appealing to the middle class, which has been struggling under a heavy tax burden, much of it imposed by his government.

Greek opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis Credit: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

Mr Tsipras led his small Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, party to victory in 2015 elections on promises to repeal the austerity measures of Greece’s first two bailouts.

But after months of tumultuous negotiations with the country’s international creditors that saw Greece nearly crash out of the European Union’s joint currency, he was forced to change tack, signing up to a third bailout and imposing the accompanying spending cuts and tax hikes.

He also cemented a deal with neighbouring North Macedonia under which that country changed its name from Macedonia. Although praised by Western allies, the deal angered many Greeks, who consider use of the term harbours expansionist aims on the Greek province of the same name.

Mr Mitsotakis, son of a former prime minister and brother of a former foreign minister, has pledged to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, modernise the country’s notorious bureaucracy and cut taxes.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis casts his ballot at a polling station in Athens. Credit: AP

While he is the clear favourite to win Sunday’s vote, the number of smaller parties making it into parliament could determine whether he has enough seats in the 300-member body to form a government. He would need at least 151 to be able to govern without forming a coalition with another party.

A number of smaller parties are vying to beat the 3% threshold to enter parliament.

Among them is a new Europe-wide anti-austerity party, MeRA25, founded by Mr Tsipras’s first finance minister, the controversial Yanis Varoufakis, who many blame for the dramatic failure of negotiations with Greece’s creditors in the first few months of Mr Tsipras’s government.

Greeks are voting in the first parliamentary election since three international bailouts. Credit: AP

Mr Varoufakis very narrowly missed making the 3% threshold in May’s European elections.

Another is Kyriakos Velopoulos, a populist TV pundit who is a new entry onto Greece’s main political scene with his Greek Solution party. Mr Velopoulos is widely known for his TV appearances, which he has used to sell what he claims are letters by Jesus Christ.

Greece’s Golden Dawn party, founded by neo-Nazi supporters more than three decades ago and which rose to be the third largest in parliament during the financial crisis, saw a major drop in support in the last European elections.