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Politics

The Guardian’s View: Tsipras Humiliated, Greek Middle Class Adrift

ATHENS – The markets applauded, the banks cheered and Conservatives hailed the runaway victory in Greece’s first round of elections by the then Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and New Democracy.

But the crushing of the major opposition SYRIZA left the country’s left and center-left in tatters, Leftist leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras in hiding for a few days – and the middle class largely left out of an economic recovery.

That was the sense of an analysis by the British newspaper The Guardian’s take on Mitsotakis’ rout and as he’s expected to cruise to another walkover in June 25 elections, perhaps enough to retain single-party rule, and hegemony.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/may/22/the-guardian-view-on-the-greek-election-the-new-hegemony

Such was the preference for an economic comeback as the COVID-19 pandemic waned that voters set aside any concerns about a surveillance scandal, a train crash that killed 57 and the high price of food, hoping for a trickle down and faster moving away from the past.

The polls showing a 7 percent win for New Democracy were disastrously wrong, some survey companies later saying they were pressured by SYRIZA to hold down the numbers of the all-out defeat that was coming.

“Mitsotakis won big partly because of signs of economic progress, and partly because voters scarred by the Eurozone debt crisis sought stability and continuity,” the paper noted of what the indicators were for voters.

He has accelerated a rebound, lured foreign investors and high-tech companies, digitized a bureaucracy notorious for inefficiency and papers filed in boxes on the floor – but said there wasn’t enough money to lower a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food, one of the highest in the European Union.

Such is the comeback that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is returning to pre-2010 levels when successive governments sought what turned into three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($349.8 billion) to save the economy.

But those came with attached harsh austerity measures, big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings. Those were perpetuated by Tsipras during a 4 ½ year reign in which he reneged on promises not to impose them – and which voters burned into their memories, the results showed.

“Having enacted sweeping austerity measures between 2015 and 2019 … Tsípras campaigned this time round on calls for greater welfare spending and public investment. It didn’t wash,” the paper said.

The board noted a low voter turnout, SYRIZA losing by 20 percent and “a loss of faith,” and the re-emergence of the rising third-place PASOK-KINAL Movement for Change center-left.

Lost in the glee was that New Democracy garnered only 0.74 percent more than it did in gaining power in July, 2019 snap elections that Tsipras called that turned out a disaster for him that continued four years later.

“Mr Tsípras’ political future looks uncertain after what amounted to a humiliation,” the paper said, driving home a nail in his political future as he scrambles to avoid a second time overwhelming.

Mitsotakis, with the help of an amendment his party passed that could bring him 50 bonus seats in the 300-member Parliament – which was taken away by a SYRIZA law in the first round – could have such a majority he could change the Constitution and be unrestrained.

He could also crush any opposition, which the Guardian said could leave out more of the middle class and under class from the recovery although he’s promised to restore wages to pre-crisis levels after hiking the minimum wage.

“For the sake of millions of households living close to the edge, Greece’s opposition parties need to quickly regroup and find common ground. Mr Mitsotakis’s market-friendly reforms may have delighted banks and investors, and reassured the comfortable middle classes. But the less well-off continue to suffer the dire consequences of punitive and sustained austerity,” the paper said.

It noted that the economy remains about a fifth smaller than it was before 2008 and that poverty and social exclusion are among the highest in Europe, invisible during a time of returning tourists and booming economy.

“Financial stability and the paying down of debt to international creditors has been achieved at the expense of general living standards. Mr Mitsotakis will deliver more of the same and the markets will cheer him for it. After a dismal night, progressive forces need to find a way back into the conversation,” the editorial added.

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