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November 18, 2019

Conservative election frontrunner vows to fix Greek economy - Tip News

Conservative election frontrunner vows to fix Greek economy

Conservative election frontrunner vows to fix Greek economy
'Greece's opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was warmly received during a recent visit to Almyros in central Greece' - By: AFP ARIS MESSINIS

In the small agricultural town of Almyros, near an airbase where he did his military service decades ago, Greek election frontrunner Kyriakos Mitsotakis sets out his plan for the country.

One item is at the top of his list if he beats incumbent prime minister Alexis Tsipras in Sunday's vote, Mitsotakis, leader of the opposition New Democracy party, told AFP.

"The first priority for us is to make sure we restart the economy," he said, speaking during a break in a day-long campaign trip in the central Greek region of Magnesia.

"Greece (will) restore ambitious growth driven by private investments, exports and innovation. All our energy is focused in that direction."

The 51-year-old Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant has pledged to create "better" jobs, to lower taxes and to "steamroll" obstacles to business.

He also wants to renegotiate Greece's tight fiscal targets in talks with the country's international creditors.

"If we present a comprehensive reforms package, (the creditors) will be open to a discussion that will gradually lower Greece's primary surpluses, which everybody acknowledges are too high," he says.

"And it will benefit both Europeans and the Greek economy."

The outgoing government had expected the economy to grow by 2.5 percent by the end of the year. By the end of the first quarter however, the figure was just 1.3 percent.

The current framework negotiated by the leftist Syriza government forecasts a primary surplus of 3.5 percent to 2022 -- but the conservatives say that target stifles growth.

The Greek public debt in 2018 climbed to 335 billion euros, or 180.4 percent of GDP. It is forecast to fall to 167.8 percent in 2019.

- 'Stable government' -

Even if the polls suggest that Mitsotakis is comfortably on course to replace Tsipras on July 7, the conservative leader knows that his path to a stable government is not yet assured.

The latest opinion polls suggest New Democracy would get between 155 and 159 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.

But the final number will depend on how many of the smaller parties secure at least 3.0 percent of the vote, the threshold required to enter parliament.

The biggest threat on New Democracy's right flank is Greek Solution, a new nationalist party created by former journalist and TV salesman Kyriakos Velopoulos.

Fervently pro-Russian and a former lawmaker for the far-right party LAOS, Velopoulos picked up 4.18 percent of the vote nationwide in May's European parliament elections, securing a seat.

The latest polling suggests that Velopoulos's party is likely to get 10 lawmakers in Greece's parliament on Sunday.

Mitsotakis, as he has toured the country this past month, has urged voters to help elect "a stable government".

"Only New Democracy can bring stability," he told cheering supporters in Almyros' packed coffee shops on Tuesday. Many of them stopped for selfies and one draped a Greek flag on his shoulders.

"I hope I will be able to have a clear mandate to transform the country," he says.

Eleni, a 24-year-old local voter found the message convincing.

"I think Mitsotakis will enable job creation and attract foreign investment," she said.

Tsipras has blamed Mitsotakis -- who was part of the 2012-2014 crisis government -- for the "disastrous" mismanagement that led to hundreds of thousands of job losses and business failures.

The leftist leader has also warned that the Mitsotakis family -- one of Greece's leading political dynasties -- is part of a failed system that bankrupted the country in 2010.

Mitsotakis is the son of former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, one of the country's longest-serving parliamentarians. His sister, Dora Bakoyannis is a former minister and Athens' first female mayor.

And the new Athens mayor Costas Bakoyannis, elected in May, is his nephew.

Mitsotakis says he is "proud" of his heritage but insists that Greeks "recognise me for who I am and not for just being (the) scion of a political family.

"I can ensure you that if I was perceived as (the) elite I wouldn't have won the European elections by (nearly) 10 percent," he adds.

In the May European elections, New Democracy took 33 percent of the vote -- nine percentage points more than the ruling Syriza party.

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