ATHENS – Expecting to win – big – in snap elections on July 7, major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said if he comes to power he will change the image and substance of Greece by 2021, marking 200 year since the start of the 1821 revolution that brought independence from the Ottoman Occupation.
In an exclusive interview with Kathimerini, speaking as if he were already Prime Minister as polls show he will oust Premier and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, Mitsotakis said that he would set up a special committee of prominent academics and scientists to lay the groundwork for a wide range of activities that will take place in Greece and abroad.
“The primary aim is to reintroduce a reborn Greece to the world,” he said, rebranding a country in a more than nine-year-long economic crisis that is undergoing a mild recovery after three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($371.3 billion) that ended on Aug. 20, 2018.
Those came with crushing austerity measures imposed by successive governments, including a New Democracy-led coalition toppled by Tsipras in January 2015 when Antonis Samaras was Premier and the Conservatives leader.
A confident Mitsotakis, who said he has already picked out half his Cabinet and that so far it’s made up of intellectuals and technocrats and not politicians, said he will hold a special event in the autumn to present the committee’s proposals on the new brand for Greece.
After earlier promising his first priority would be to finally start the long-delayed $8 billion development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport that sat still under Tsipras’ regime, he said he also will bring the country out the crisis and into a full market return.
“This must be reflected in the cost of borrowing and rating agency upgrades and in the first reactions of the economy to the interventions we make,” he said, promising Greece will be able to borrow again from the markets by the end of the year.
Leading big in surveys after Tsipras spent more than four years reneging on anti-austerity promises, Mitsotakis said he believes his government – especially if he gets a mandate and doesn’t need a coalition partner – will get a vote of confidence on July 21.
After that, he said he will submit a bill to end asylum on college campuses after the law was used by anarchists and criminals to use the universities grounds as a hiding place from police who aren’t allowed to go in after them.
That could be complicated, however, if he needs to bring in the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) led by stalwarts of the former PASOK Socialists who served New Democracy in a previoius coalition before going bust for backing austerity measures.
KINAL doesn’t want to end the asylum law that was reinstated by SYRIZA amid criticism it was being used to provide sanctuaries for anarchists and drug dealing, untouchable by police who aren’t allowed to enter the schools grounds.
He also has promised to end furloughs from jail for violent criminals and terrorists such as Dimitris Koufodinas, who was a leader of the disbanded Nov. 17 group that killed 23 people, including five Americans attached to the US Embassy over the years.
Koufodinas had gotten seven vacations from jail under the SYRIZA regime as the party is riddled with terrorist and anarchist sympathizers, with the group Rouvikonas going on violent rampages to demand he get another after it was rejected.
With the law technically making voting mandatory for Greeks, Mitsotakis urged voters to turn out after a listless campaign that has seen little interest during the beginning of the summer season and after May 26 elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities, won big by his party’s candidates – but with abstention rate of more than 41 percent.
He said not voting, even if people believe his victory is foregone conclusion, would be “the defeat of democracy” and could prevent him from winning outright and being able to carry out his mission of turning Greece around.
“Not one vote should be wasted,” he said while campaigning in Evros, northern Greece, calling on young Greeks especially – the voting age was reduced from 18 to 17 – “not to blow their vote on small parties that were born in a climate of anger but have no role to play in the new, bright Greece that we envision.”
Tsipras accused Mitsotakis of “playing catenaccio,” using an Italian soccer term to describe an all-out defensive tactic, and said that SYRIZA would surprise everyone and win the elections although trailing by nearly double digits in every poll.