Greek conservatives to pick new leader after shock defeat

Conservative New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis (C) is surrounded by party supporters after voting for the general election in Athens, Greece, September 20, 2015. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis

ATHENS: The leader of Greece's conservatives signaled Tuesday he would step down as the party seeks to recover from the shock of a heavy election defeat that pollsters failed to predict.

New Democracy said it would hold a leadership election as soon as possible after losing to the leftist Syriza party. Vangelis Meimarakis, who shepherded the party through Sunday's ballot, said he was unlikely to stand.

Though opinion polls had shown the race neck-and-neck, New Democracy ended up losing by seven percentage points, a result that returned Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras as prime minister.

Meimarakis took over in July after former prime minister Antonis Samaras quit the party leadership in response to a strong 'No' vote in a referendum on whether Greece should accept the terms of what became its third international bailout.

Commentators generally agreed that Meimarakis matched Tsipras in two high-profile televised debates at which he pushed one central message: that Tsipras could not be trusted after accepting the bailout terms he had vehemently opposed.

Political analyst Theodore Couloumbis said a perceived lack of charisma may have disadvantaged Meimarakis, but added: "I would however make the reverse assumption and put the emphasis on Tsipras, who is younger, better-looking and articulate."

He said the inaccurate polls reflected the difficulty of pinning down a gut feeling rather than a carefully considered opinion. "A lot of people assume voters act rationally ... [But polling] is a bit like weather forecasting, more of an art than a science."

A rational voter might have concluded that "Tsipras came to power in January and has made a mess since," he said. But the unexpected willingness to give him a second chance suggested something more emotional.

"We are moving more and more towards a political scene in which personality is again emerging ...Tsipras is seen to be leading a personal party."

Tsipras took the oath of office for a second term as prime minister on Monday and was expected to name his cabinet by Tuesday evening.

Meimarakis won praise from party grandees.

Lawmaker Makis Voridis, re-elected on Sunday and a potential leadership candidate, told Mega television: "He has played a very important role and fought hard in this election."

New Democracy, which ruled Greece as a single-party government from 2004 to 2009, strongly opposed the country's first two international bailouts.

After winning a parliamentary election in June 2012, it formed a coalition with socialist PASOK as its main partner. The coalition implemented bailout reforms before being ousted at the polls by Syriza in January this year.





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