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Politics

Analysts See Train Tragedy Hurting Mitsotakis’ Re-election Chances

ATHENS – While the deadline for announcing Greece’s elections is mid-July, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has delayed making an announcement. However, some analysts believe that the train tragedy, which killed 57 people, may reduce his lead. New Democracy had been leading by as much as 14% in 2022 before the major opposition SYRIZA leader and former premier, Alexis Tsipras, began attacking Mitsotakis over a surveillance scandal.

Tsipras had been brought down largely by the government’s shambolic failed response to the July 2018 wildfires that killed 103 people and devastated the seaside village of Mati, but has now jumped on the train disaster in Tempi to attack anew. Mitsotakis’ lead was down to around 7% in the most recent surveys before the head-on collision between a passenger train carrying 350 people and a cargo train on the same track.

The most recent poll gave Mitsotakis and New Democracy a lead of 4.6%, leading SYRIZA by 29.6%-25%. The government is now looking for signs of how much its standing has been hurt, down from a 7.5% lead before the tragedy, according to Agence France-Presse.

The accident will have “an impact on the government as it bears political and ethical responsibility,” said Stella Ladi, a professor at Panteion University in Athens and Queen Mary University of London, in an interview with AFP.

“People have been under pressure since the financial crisis,” said Pinelopi Horianopoulou, a civil servant who participated in the protests, referring to the period of bailouts and budget cuts from 2010-2018 that severely impacted public services, including railways.

While a stationmaster, who had been on the job for four days after being away from the railways for 11 years, admitted to making an error, he also stated that the automated systems and signals were not functioning properly.

The deaths have ignited rage over the lack of safety measures in the railways, especially since rail worker unions had written a letter warning about problems weeks before the tragedy.

Protests in the streets have targeted both the government and the railway company. The anger has been so fierce that Mitsotakis, who initially blamed “human error,” later retracted his statement, apologized to the families of the victims, and pledged to investigate the incident to make rail travel safer.

The news agency said that the mourning is giving way to voters wanting to bring punishment, which could put Mitsotakis’ government in peril although he blamed previous governments for failure too.

“And, observers say … Mitsotakis – who had looked on course to comfortably win a second term – may pay a heavy price,” as people look for someone to blame and are disenchanted about the country’s dominant parties’ negligence.

The news agency reported that mourning is giving way to a desire for punishment among voters, which could put Mitsotakis’ government in peril, although he also blamed previous governments for failure. “Observers say … Mitsotakis – who had looked on course to comfortably win a second term – may pay a heavy price” as people search for someone to blame and become disenchanted with the dominant parties’ negligence. Four people, including three station masters and a rail supervisor, are facing multiple charges over the tragedy and could be jailed for life. However, no culpability has been placed on former Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis – who resigned – or any higher-up public official.

Despite several media reports alleging everything from incompetence to bribery, corruption, and neglect of a railway system that has the worst safety record in the European Union, and compared to India, no high-ranking official has been held responsible. Media reports pointed to critical shortages of workers, including stationmasters, where only one in three needed in stations was in place, with promises now to add more as the economy grew 5.9% in 2022 as the COVID pandemic waned.

While New Democracy may see its lead shrink, Tsipras should not automatically expect to benefit because of the baggage of his government’s past, especially the fires and Mati.

Ladi said that voter anger could be directed towards other mainstream parties that have held power in recent years, including SYRIZA and the resurging PASOK-KINAL center-left, which may lead to votes going to marginal or extremist parties. She told AFP, “There could be a protest vote against ruling parties of the last decade, which were unable to address public sector failings,” making the election more than just a rematch between New Democracy and SYRIZA.

According to daily Ta Nea, “No political analyst is now risking predictions about the election result,” and added that the chances of a single party being able to form a government were weakening.

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