Greek elections 2015: a quick rundown of the electoral system

The Greek parliament has 300 members. 12 of those are elected on a nationwide ballot and 288 in electoral districts. The electoral districts match the administrative division of nomoi, except for the two largest nomoi, Attica and Thessaloniki, which are broken down into smaller electoral districts (five and two respectively).  This means that each party submits a list of 12 nationwide candidates, plus any number of local candidates in each district. Nationwide candidates are elected in order of priority, while voters get to tick the names of local candidates they want to see elected.

Another important specificity of the Greek electoral law is that 250 MPs are elected on the basis of a strictly proportional ballot, but the remaining 50 seats are given as a bonus to the party that garners the largest number of valid votes. 

For voters, this means that the ballot they cast contributes to three things:

  • By casting a ballot for a specific party, voters contribute to the percentage of the vote garnered by that party and therefore to the possibility that this party gets the 50-seat bonus.
  • By casting a ballot for a specific party, voters contribute to electing one or more of the 12 nationwide candidates put forward by that party in the order of priority they were listed.
  • By ticking the names of 1, 2, 3 or 4 local candidates (depending on the size of the electoral district), voters contribute to making the specific candidate(s) more likely to be elected. Voters can choose not to tick any names at all, in which case their vote will still count towards the first two items above.

Abstention, blank and null votes are not taken in consideration, so the distribution of parliament seats is based exclusively on the number of valid votes garnered by each party.

The last important specificity of the Greek electoral system is that parties are required to garner 3% or more of the vote in order to enter parliament. This is extremely important because, the larger the number of votes for parties that do not reach this 3% threshold, the lowest the number of votes required for the first party to secure an absolute majority (151 seats) in parliament.

Therefore, to determine the percentage of nationwide votes needed to secure a majority, you should deduct from 100% the percentage of valid votes obtained by parties that did not reach the 3% threshold and multiply the percentage left by 0.404.


In the 06 May 2012 elections, parties that did not reach the 3% threshold obtained 19.03% of votes. This means that a party with as little as 32.71% of votes could secure a majority in parliament. In these elections, New Democracy garnered the largest number of votes at 18.85%, meaning only 108 seats, thus the repeat elections of June 2012.

In June 2012, only 5.99% of the valid votes went to parties that did not reach the 3% threshold. This means that New Democracy, with 29.66% of the vote, got 129 parliament seats, and was able to form a coalition with PASOK (12.28%, 33 seats) and DIMAR (6.25%, 17 seats.) These three parties garnered among themselves only 48.19% of the vote, but they had a 179-seat majority in parliament. Conversely, SYRIZA had then garnered 26.89% of the vote but had only 71 seats.

There is no system of proxy voting, early voting or postal voting in Greece, meaning that Greeks living abroad or living away from the place where they are registered as voters have no option but to travel to their electoral district to vote. Travel will be undertaken at the voter’s expense, unless political parties choose to subsidize travel for their voters.
It must also be noted that the 50-seat bonus for the first party is designed in a way that puts coalitions of parties at a disadvantage. The average percentage of votes garnered by coalition members must be higher than the percentage of votes garnered by the first single party (the average being calculated as the total percentage of votes garnered by the coalition divided by the number of parties constituting the coalition).
If a coalition of 5 parties earns 50% of the vote while the single largest party earns 20% of the vote, the average percentage of votes garnered by the coalition will be 10%. The 50-seat bonus will therefore go to the single largest party.

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