Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his conservative party have won a clear lead in Greece’s parliamentary elections, exit polls show.
But they indicate he does not have enough votes to form a government, meaning a second election is likely unless he can form a coalition with another party.
Exit polls showed Mr Mitsotakis’s main rival, 48-year-old former prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party, in second place.
The polls projected New Democracy winning between 121 and 125 seats in the 300-member parliament, with Syriza at between 86 and 89 seats.
If confirmed by official results, Mr Mitsotakis will have up to three days to seek coalition partners, before the mandate to try to form a coalition government is handed to Mr Tsipras.
But Mr Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party indicated it would prefer to seek a clear win in a second election and be able to govern on its own.
“We have said that we want to govern outright because that would ensure stability and the way forward. So we have the right to ask the Greek people for that in the next election,” public order minister Takis Theodorikakos said on Skai television shortly after polls closed on Sunday evening.
Sunday’s election is Greece’s first since its economy ceased being under strict supervision by international lenders who had provided bailout funds during the country’s nearly decade-long financial crisis.
The election was held under a new law of proportional representation, which makes it particularly difficult for any one party to win enough parliamentary seats to form a government on its own.
But the law will change again for the next election, shifting to a system that rewards the leading party with bonus seats and making it easier for it to win a parliamentary majority.
Mr Mitsotakis, a 55-year-old Harvard-educated former banking executive, had been steadily ahead in opinion polls in the run-up to the election.
It was later revealed that train stations were poorly staffed and safety infrastructure broken and outdated.
The government was also battered by a surveillance scandal in which journalists and prominent Greek politicians discovered spyware on their phones.
The revelations deepened mistrust among the country’s political parties at a time when consensus may be badly needed.
But New Democracy celebrated its strong showing in Sunday’s vote.
“(The exit polls) show a clear victory for New Democracy and a clear renewal of the mandate to continue the major changes sought by Greek society,” said government spokesman Akis Skertsos.
Greece’s once-dominant Pasok party is likely to be at the centre of any coalition talks.
Overtaken by Syriza during Greece’s 2009-2018 financial crisis, exit polls showed the socialist party garnering around 35 seats in parliament.
But Mr Androulakis’s poor relationship with Mr Mitsotakis, whom he accuses of covering up the wiretapping scandal, mean a deal with the conservatives would be difficult.
His relationship with Mr Tsipras is also poor, accusing him of trying to poach Pasok voters.
In power since 2019, Mr Mitsotakis has delivered unexpectedly high growth, a steep drop in unemployment and a country on the brink of returning to investment grade on the global bond market for the first time since it lost market access in 2010, at the start of its financial crisis.
Debts to the International Monetary Fund were paid off early.
European governments and the IMF pumped 280 billion euros (£243 billion) into the Greek economy in emergency loans between 2010 and 2018 to prevent the eurozone member from suffering bankruptcy.
In return, they demanded punishing cost-cutting measures and reforms that saw the country’s economy shrink by a quarter.