While Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, facing an in-your-face re-election campaign war in 2023 against rivals growing bolder, is counting on a rejuvenated economy and 5.5 billion euros ($5.57 billion) in handouts to buy votes, the question should be asked if he knows how much a souvlaki costs.
The prospect of a lamb in every pot is appealing to the hungry who have to pay a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food – tied with Cyprus for the fourth highest in the European Union, making people turn to generic brands.
The economy is on a course to grow more than 5 percent, fueled by a record-busting 20 billion euros ($20.27 billion) in tourist revenues that, if not for a debilitating energy crisis that doubled the cost of electricity, requiring the state to pump in 94 percent subsidies, would be a bonanza.
He’s echoing former premier George Papandreou, the then PASOK Socialist leader whose cry, “the money is there,” led to his end when it wasn’t, and he had to seek the first of 326 billion euros ($330 billion) in three international bailouts that came with crushing austerity measures.
Speaking at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) that is traditionally used to promise pie in the sky for everyone, Mitsotakis said there’s plenty of money for programs including cheaper housing for the young, the first pension hikes in 12 years, raising the minimum wage a third time under his tenure, subsidies to livestock farmers, fuel oil assistance for the coming winter that could be cold and dark if Russian supplies emptied under European Union sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine fall off, and putting solar panels on rooftops.
The problem with handouts aimed at putting more money in people’s hands so they can buy lamb more than twice a year at Easter and Christmas is that if they still can’t afford it they’re going to blame someone.
Greeks may be worried that Turkey will invade – NATO, the United States and the United Nations would send tweets of denunciation and let it happen – and they may be anxious if they can afford to heat their homes, but in the end all elections come down to what’s in the refrigerator. Or not.
Even with a spyware scandal dogging him he’s trying to keep secret with a parliamentary panel allegedly investigating – controlled by his New Democracy lawmakers already essentially killing it – he can’t hide the sticker price on lamb.
Mitsotakis hopes the benefits of the handouts and giveaways translates into fat, happy voters being able to buy what they want at the supermarket although Greece ranks seventh among the European Union’s 27 member states in the share of private household expenditure for food. While Greek food is the best on the planet, you still have to be able to afford it.
Mitsotakis, who has done much to draw foreign investors scared off during the downfall 4 ½-year reign of the former ruling Looney Left SYRIZA – but has gone lenient on tax cheats and bank fraud – is lucky that he doesn’t have any real competition, although Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras dreams of revenge in a rematch of the July, 2019 elections in which he was routed.
If you can’t beat a two-faced liar then you don’t deserve to win an election, and Tsipras has nowhere really to turn because he broke just about every vow he made in nearly breaking Greece during his disaster years.
Tsipras put a booby trap in the electoral process when his party removed a 50-seat bonus in the 300-member Parliament for whomever wins the election, which means in Greece’s fractured political landscape it’s unlikely New Democracy will meet the threshold in an expected victory.
Barring a coalition – Tsipras would happily be Deputy Prime Minister in a New Democracy-SYRIZA government of the center-right and looney left – that means a second election, and more Greeks giving up caring who wins.
Unless there are more damaging revelations from the spy scandal, even more unlikely because any journalists who try to write about it could face jail time under Draconian anti-media laws, Mitsotakis will win again.
He was confident enough about that to rule out early elections, has the advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic waning, will ride out the spyware scandal, and if he can stare down Turkish Sultan President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will win points for a Harvard guy (“Fight Fiercely Harvard!”) being tough. Voters like a candidate willing to get down and dirty, although some of that should be directed at fighting corruption still flourishing.
The danger for a Harvard guy too is that they can be seen as elitist and out of touch, especially if they can eat lamb anytime they want and not just for religious holidays or special occasions.
So Mitsotakis would do himself a favor if he walks through a neighborhood and stops at a souvlaki stand and sits down for a talk with some customers.
He risks getting an earful, especially if there’s a SYRIZA voter at the table just waiting to roast him, but that’s better than hiding out at Maximos Mansion and tweeting policies.
Running for re-election in 1928, President Herbert Hoover boasted in an ad that Republican prosperity had “put the proverbial ‘chicken in every pot.’ And a car in every backyard, to boot.” He won in 1928 – but it came back to haunt him in 1932.