No-nonsense reformer Mitsotakis takes over Greek conservative party

Athens (AFP) - No-nonsense reformer Kyriakos Mitsotakis, son of a former prime minister, on Sunday beat the odds to become the new leader of Greece's conservative New Democracy party after winning a nationwide vote.

A scion of an influential political family from Crete, Mitsotakis, 47, defeated 62-year-old former parliament chief Vangelis Meimarakis who had been considered the favourite in the race after grabbing an 11.3-point lead in the first round of voting last month.

"We have one purpose. To express all the forces that stand against the populism of an incompetent government," said Mitsotakis, who was mobbed by supporters as he arrived as his political headquarters in Athens.

With 70 percent of results counted, Mitsotakis took 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Meimarakis, the party said. Final results are expected on Monday.

The Harvard-educated economist now faces the difficult challenge of taking on charismatic leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who beat New Democracy twice in elections last year.

Over 300,000 party members reportedly cast ballots at polling stations across the country on Sunday.

The son of former premier and one-time New Democracy chief Constantine Mitsotakis, the new party leader is an ardent reformer who says he champions "common sense against populism."

Local media posted a picture of a smiling Mitsotakis visiting his 97-year-old father immediately after clinching victory.

Mitsotakis has pledged to realign the party towards the political centre, but he has also promised to work with cadres of the party's nationalist right-wing faction who helped get him elected.

"I stand for meritocracy, transparency and equal opportunities," Mitsotakis told Kathimerini daily in an interview a day before the vote.

"I guarantee that we will soon create a great centre-right movement that will give Greece a reliable alternative solution in government."

New Democracy has been without an elected leader since July, when party head Antonis Samaras abruptly resigned, leaving Meimarakis in charge.

Mitsotakis has shrugged off criticism that he got this far thanks to his family connections. His father headed the party from 1984 to 1993 while his older sister Dora Bakoyannis is a former Athens mayor and ex-foreign minister who unsuccessfully contested the party leadership in 2009.

"I am proud of both my name and surname," Mitsotakis said in a recent interview.

Mitsotakis has been accused of excessive job-cutting zeal during his term as administrative reform minister in 2013-2015, his first and only ministerial post to date.

"I found this policy in place, I applied it as best I could," he insisted this week.

Before turning to politics in 2004, the married father of three worked for a decade as an economic analyst and advisor, including a three-year stint as managing director of Athens-based NBG Venture Capital.