ATHENS – Nothing could deter him: not criticisms over a surveillance scandal, a deadly train crash, soaring food prices, or opponents’ portrayal of him as elitist and out-of-touch. Greece’s economy is bouncing back, and tourists are flocking in.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ ruling New Democracy party achieved a resounding victory, completely defeating the major opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance in the elections. However, with 145 seats, they fell just short of the 151 seats needed to form a government.
The Conservatives secured 40.79% of the vote, doubling SYRIZA’s 20.06%—although the high abstention rate of 40% revealed a widespread disillusionment with politics in a country divided by conflicts.
These results left Mitsotakis as the first among the top three finishers—the center-left PASOK-KINAL Movement for Change being third—to attempt forming a coalition government. However, he expressed his intention to pursue victory in a second ballot scheduled for July 2.
A change in electoral law introduced by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party eliminated a 50-seat bonus in Parliament for the winner. The Conservatives, however, modified it to incorporate a sliding scale of up to 50 seats in a second ballot.
Mitsotakis capitalized on his success in luring back investors who had been scared away by SYRIZA’s anti-business policies. The Leftists have a staunch core of supporters who are averse to foreign companies and hold anti-capitalist views.
Voters overlooked their grievances with the Conservatives, preferring Mitsotakis’ vision of moving forward with a pro-business approach rather than, as he put it, returning to what he called SYRIZA’s near ruinous reign.
He described the election as a “political earthquake” that far exceeded surveys, which had shown his party leading by only 6-7% right up until the vote. With 12% of voters undecided and the inclusion of 440,000 new young voters, it acted as a catalyst.
According to a report in The New York Times, Mitsotakis intends to pursue an outright victory in the second ballot, rather than forming a coalition. Voters responded favorably to his call for an “experienced hand at the helm” of Greece.
LEFT LICKING WOUNDS
“We have kept the country on its feet and laid the groundwork for a stronger nation,” he stated. “Together, we will fight the next battle so that our vision of an independent New Democracy can become a reality,” he added.
Tsipras seemingly paid the consequences for his previous government’s near-exit from the Eurozone and the failure to fulfill his promises. This included implementing austerity measures that he had pledged to resist, which disproportionately affected workers, pensioners, and the underprivileged.
In a statement, Tsipras expressed his congratulations to Mitsotakis on his victory and mentioned that his party would convene to discuss the outcome, as a second election seemed inevitable. The Leftists aimed to regroup and strategize.
With a mere 72 seats in Parliament, this disappointing result raises concerns about the future of SYRIZA and Tsipras. He had previously suffered a significant defeat at the hands of Mitsotakis and New Democracy in the snap polls of July 2019.
“This outcome reflects the complete failure of SYRIZA’s strategy, their continuous shift to the right, and their hegemonic position on the left, which has only deepened confusion and demoralization,” commented Seraphim Seferiades, a Professor of Politics and History at Panteion University in Athens, to the newspaper.
In a last-minute attempt during the campaign, Tsipras even sought support from former members of the disbanded neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, believing that they had not been radicalized.
It was a disappointing night for the Left, except for the performance of PASOK-KINAL, a merged party that included remnants of the former PASOK Socialists. The Socialists had disintegrated after supporting austerity measures and becoming a junior partner in a previous coalition led by New Democracy.
The small MeRA25 party, led by Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister for SYRIZA who was expelled for refusing to endorse Tsipras’ sudden acceptance of austerity in exchange for a third bailout of €82 billion ($88.77 billion), failed to secure enough votes to return to Parliament.
In his final campaign speech before the election, Mitsotakis emphasized economic growth as a crucial indicator of the future. While some Greeks bought into this message, he had retracted his promise to reduce the 24% Value Added Tax (VAT) on food, citing insufficient funds.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
The economy experienced a growth of approximately 6% in 2022 as Coronavirus health restrictions were lifted to attract tourists, the primary revenue generator. It is anticipated that growth will remain at around 2% in 2023.
“This is not the time for futile experiments,” he remarked, emphasizing that a stable government was necessary to achieve an investment grade rating, which would enable Greece to reduce borrowing costs.
Greeks displayed little interest in the phone tapping of 15,475 individuals, including PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis, or the ongoing allegations that his government authorized refugee pushbacks, even at sea.
In fact, he reaffirmed his government’s commitment to keeping refugees out, which included plans to extend a wall along the border with Turkey and prevent refugees from reaching five Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
“Greece has borders, and those borders must be protected,” Mitsotakis declared passionately to a rally of devoted supporters waving Greek flags—the same color as his party’s victorious Blue Wave.
Tsipras campaigned for change without mentioning his previous tenure, but his criticisms regarding the surveillance scandal and allegations of abuse of power failed to resonate with voters who were eager to move forward.
Before casting his ballot, Tsipras urged Greeks to “leave behind an arrogant government that disregards the needs of the majority.” However, his message was lost on most voters who were uninterested in hearing his words or any further promises.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Mitsotakis, as his party’s popularity plummeted to a mere 2.9% following a devastating head-on train collision that claimed the lives of 57 people, including many college students. The incident sparked widespread protests, with his government being criticized for its failure to implement railway safety measures.
One supporter, Sakis Farantakis, a 54-year-old hair salon owner, expressed his views to the newspaper, stating, “They’re far from perfect, but they’re the only reliable choice. We have moved forward; why would we regress into uncertainty?”