By ELENA BECATOROS and DEREK GATOPOULOS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis comfortably won Greece’s parliamentary elections Sunday, delivering a stinging blow to leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after a tumultuous four years in office as the country struggled through a crippling financial crisis.
With more than 90% of votes counted, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party had 39.8% of the votes, compared to 31.5% for Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party.
The extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, founded by neo-Nazi supporters, narrowly failed to make the 3% threshold needed to enter parliament — a huge fall of support for a party that had become the third-largest in the Greek legislature during the country’s financial crisis.
The results indicated Greek voters bucked a recent trend in Europe of citizens rejecting the political mainstream and turning to populist and euroskeptic parties.
“I asked for a strong mandate to change Greece. You offered it generously,” Mitsotakis said in his victory speech. “From today, a difficult but beautiful fight begins.”
Mitsotakis. 51, vowed to abide by his campaign pledges to cut taxes, attract investment and improve the job market. He had been ahead in opinion polls for three years and managed to build a sizeable lead.
“Greeks deserve better and the time has come for us to prove it,” he said.
Mitsotakis was scheduled to be officially sworn in as prime minister Monday, and was expected to announce his Cabinet later in the day.
Tsipras conceded defeat and phoned Mitsotakis to congratulate him.
“The citizens have made their choice. We fully respect the popular vote,” Tsipras said in a speech from central Athens.
He said his party now would work to protect the rights of working Greeks as “a responsible but dynamic opposition” to the government.
Tsipras said he hoped New Democracy’s return to government “will not lead to vengeance … particularly toward the significant achievements to protect the social majority and the workers.”
The election was the first since Greece emerged from three international bailouts that were dependent on successive governments implementing strict austerity measures, including major tax hikes and spending cuts. The financial crisis saw unemployment and poverty levels skyrocket and the economy shrink by a quarter.
Mitsotakis, the son of a former prime minister, brother of a former foreign minister and uncle to a newly elected mayor of Athens, fought during the campaign to shed the image of family privilege.
He pledged to make Greece more business-friendly, attract foreign investment, to modernize the country’s notorious bureaucracy and to cut taxes.
Tsipras, 44, called the election three months ahead of schedule after Syriza suffered a severe defeat in European Union and local elections in May and early June.
He had led his small Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, party to power in 2015 on promises to repeal the austerity of Greece’s first two bailouts. But after months of tough negotiations with international creditors that saw Greece nearly crash out of the European Union’s joint currency, he was forced to change tack and sign up to a third bailout that imposed spending cuts and tax hikes.
He also cemented a deal with neighboring North Macedonia under which that country changed its name from plain “Macedonia.” Although praised by Western allies, the deal angered many Greeks, who consider use of the term by their neighbor to harbor expansionist aims on the Greek province of the same name.
Associated Press writers Demetris Nellas and Stefania Vourazeri contributed to this report.