Pro-Reform Mitsotakis Wins Second Term in Greek Election That Sees Surge by Small Far-Right Parties

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's center-right leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was formally sworn in as prime minister Monday after easily winning a second term with a record-high margin over the left-wing opposition, in an election that also ushered new far-right parties into Parliament.

With 99.70% of the vote counted, Mitsotakis' New Democracy party had 40.55% -- more than twice the main opposition Syriza's 17.84%. It was the largest margin of victory seen in half a century and slightly expanded ND's 20-percentage-point lead in a previous election five weeks before.

Mitsotakis, 55, was sworn in after being formally handed the mandate to govern by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and was due later Monday to name his new cabinet that's to assume its duties on Tuesday.

"My aim was to secure a stable government with a parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, two elections were needed for that," he said in a televised meeting with Sakellaropoulou, who as head of state holds a mainly ceremonial role.

"I have committed to implement major, deeply-needed reforms over the next four years, (and) have a strong mandate to do that," he said.

Mitsotakis spoke with Sakellaropoulou about the "surprise" entry of marginal parties, which raises the number represented in Parliament from five to eight, but added: "I think our democracy is mature enough to handle whatever temporary turbulence (ensues)."

Held under a new electoral law that boosts the first party, Sunday's vote gave ND a comfortable majority of 158 seats in the 300-member Parliament, with Syriza getting 48. The May election had failed to provide Mitsotakis with a majority due to the one-off electoral system then in force, which prompted the new vote.

Center-left PASOK elected 32 lawmakers and the Stalinist-rooted Communist Party 20.

The remaining 42 seats will be shared between three far-right parties -- including one endorsed by a jailed former top official in a defunct, Nazi-inspired party -- and another representing the far-left.

Athenian Chrysanthi Tzetzenekou said the extreme right's parliamentary entry worried her.

"Of course, everyone's opinion is respected," she added. "Let's hope for a balance.

Voter turnout was nearly 53%, compared to 61% in May.

Mitsotakis campaigned on a platform of securing economic growth and political stability, cutting taxes and boosting incomes as Greece gradually recovers from a nearly decade-long financial crisis.

Greek government bonds are still rated below investment grade, although that's widely expected to change this year amid the booming economy and the prospect of stable government.

A substantial upgrade by international rating agencies would provide a formal seal of financial respectability, allow greater foreign investment and lower government and business borrowing costs.

Mitsotakis faces several challenges. He must maintain the economic rebound amid a cost of living crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine, and improve relations with neighboring Turkey which nosedived in 2020 over offshore gas drilling rights but stabilized in recent months.

Speaking late Sunday, Mitsotakis pledged to use his second term to "transform Greece, with a dynamic economic growth rate that will increase salaries and reduce inequality, with better and free public health care, a more effective and digital state and a strong country."

ND won in 58 of the country's 59 electoral regions, capturing traditional Socialist and left-wing strongholds, some for the first time.

Harvard-educated Mitsotakis comes from one of Greece's most prominent political families. His late father, Constantine Mitsotakis, served as prime minister in the 1990s, his sister was a foreign minister and his nephew is the current mayor of Athens.

Despite scandals late in his first term, including revelations of wiretapping targeting senior politicians and journalists and a deadly Feb. 28 train crash that exposed poor safety measures in public transport, voters returned to power a prime minister who delivered economic growth and lowered unemployment.

His main rival, 48-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was prime minister from 2015 to 2019 during the height of Greece's financial crisis. Tsipras first came to power pledging an end to painful spending cuts imposed by international bailout creditors but abruptly switched course to sign up for a new round of rescue loans accompanied by further austerity.

Despite the election result, Tsipras has shown no inclination to resign and there have been no open calls from within his party for him to do so.

Four marginal parties crossed the 3% Parliamentary entry threshold on Sunday, up from one in May, as certainty over the outcome at the top of the race may have freed many voters to back smaller groupings.

Although all three on the far right oppose immigration, the issue was not noticeable in pre-election campaigning -- despite the June 14 migrant ship disaster that left more than 500 people missing, feared dead. Mitsotakis' government had pursued a tough border policy, greatly reducing the flow of smuggling boats, but has been accused of illegally deporting migrants back to Turkey, which it has strongly denied.

The top performer, the previously unknown nationalist Spartans, was endorsed ahead of the second vote by Ilias Kasidiaris. He is serving 13 years in prison as a former leading member of the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, linked to multiple violent street attacks.

Spartans leader Vassilis Stigas publicly thanked Kasidiaris on Sunday for helping his party win 4.64% of the vote and 12 seats in Parliament.

Elliniki Lysi, or Greek Solution, won 4.44% by dredging the populist conservative depths ND eschewed years ago.

Newcomer Niki, or Victory, got 3.69% and 10 seats. Led by a state primary school teacher and theologian, it offered a traditionalist Christian Orthodox message. Its critics say its initial core was formed by pandemic-era anti-vaccination activists and has links with pro-Russian groups and zealots at odds with the official Church of Greece.

On the far-left, Plefsi Eleftherias, or Passage to Freedom, won 3.17% and 8 seats. It's a Syriza splinter group led by Zoe Konstantopoulou.

She bragged late Sunday that, although her party had elected few lawmakers, "I'm as good as 100, and each of our other lawmakers is good for 20."

President Sakellaropoulou noted Monday that "the eight-party new Parliament will engender many challenges for its Speaker."

"We'll all go through it together," she said. "I hope for the best outcome for the country."