Greece PM's party ahead in election
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' party is on course to win Sunday's election, exit polls show, but could be forced to call a second round of votes as it failed to garner enough support to rule alone.
His New Democracy is projected to have obtained 36 to 40 percent of the votes -- well ahead of leftist challenger Alexis Tsipras' Syriza party, which is expected to have secured 25 to 29 percent of the ballot.
If the result is confirmed, Mitsotakis would have to either enter into tough negotiations from Monday with his rivals to seek a coalition, or he could opt to seek a second round of votes, likely in early July.
The 55-year-old Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant had entered into the elections as the favourite, with Greece currently enjoying fairly robust economic health.
Unemployment and inflation have fallen and growth this year is projected to reach twice that of the European Union's -- a far cry from the throes of a crippling debt crisis a decade ago.
With a post-Covid tourism revival lifting the country's growth to 5.9 percent in 2022, Mitsotakis has campaigned on a pledge to build on the economic gains.
But fears over stagnating wages and rising costs remains a key concern for voters -- something that his rival Tsipras had sought to exploit.
The result meant however that Tsipras is unlikely to succeed in making his comeback after a first mandate in 2015 to 2019, during which he led rocky negotiations with creditors that nearly crashed Greece out of the euro.
Rather, it could put the focus on socialist party Pasok-Kinal, led by 44-year-old Nikos Androulakis.
Exit polls have the potential kingmaker between 9.5 and 12.5 percent.
Androulakis had been seen early on as a potential coalition partner for Mitsotakis but things went sour when he discovered he had been under state surveillance.
- 'Life is difficult' -
The wiretap scandal, which erupted last year, forced the resignation of the head of the intelligence service and a nephew of Mitsotakis, who was a top aide in his office.
In the run-up to the vote, Androulakis had firmly ruled out forming a partnership with Mitsotakis' conservatives.
While the socialist party is closer policy-wise to Syriza, Androulakis had in March said he would only back a coalition if neither Tsipras or Mitsotakis became prime minister.
Ahead of the polls, voters had voiced worries about cost of living and job issues.
"Life, especially for young people, is very difficult. Unemployment is high, there are no work prospects and salaries vanish at the end of the month," said Athens resident Dora Vasilopoulou, 41.
In Greece's second-biggest city Thessaloniki, Giorgos Antonopoulos, 39, who works at a commercial store, said, "Salaries are used up halfway through the month and nothing is done to address this issue. We work just to survive."
Besides these concerns, Mitsotakis' lead may also have been eroded by anger over a deadly train crash that claimed 57 lives.
The government initially blamed the accident on human error, even though Greece's notoriously poor rail network has suffered from years of under-investment.
Meanwhile, five people were arrested near Karditsa, central Greece, on suspicion of vote fraud after being found illegally in possession of ballots and over 6,000 euros ($6,490) in cash, police said Sunday.