ATHENS – As expected, the train tragedy that claimed 57 lives has caused a significant blow to the ruling New Democracy government in Greece. The latest poll by GPO on behalf of Parapolitika newspaper, conducted after the deadly train crash on February 28, showed the Conservative party’s lead slipping to 3.9%, down almost by half. The streets were filled with rage against the government and train company, and the other political parties gained momentum.
In 2022, New Democracy had leads as high as almost 14%, before a surveillance and phone bugging scandal led by the major opposition and former ruling party, SYRIZA, cut into their popularity.
While the new polls still give New Democracy a lead of 29.5% over SYRIZA’s 25.6%, both parties experienced a decline in support. The leftist party’s backing also fell, as did the resurgent PASOK-KINAL, which saw a decline of about 2% to 9.2%. The KKE Communists followed with a steady 6.7%, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged for decades. The radical leftists MeRA25 and ultra-nationalist Greek Solution followed at 3.3% and 3%, respectively, the minimum required to enter Parliament.
Prior to the train tragedy, Prime Minister Mitsotakis planned to set an election date, but the incident delayed the process, prompting parties to halt their campaigns while investigations into the accident and the government’s failure to implement rail safety measures were conducted.
But media reports suggest that the ruling government in Greece is already working on a campaign strategy to deflect blame for the train tragedy onto former governments, including SYRIZA, while the opposition party is pushing for a set election date. Originally, April 9 was a likely date for the upcoming elections, but the train disaster has pushed it back to May 14 or May 21.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a re-election challenge on May 14, after ramping up tensions with Greece before being halted by an earthquake and the train disaster.
Some political analysts believe that the dominant parties may face punishment from the Greek people, especially the young, as many of the victims on the passenger train were college students. However, the tragedy makes it unlikely for any party to rule alone, which would necessitate a coalition between warring factions.
The previous government, SYRIZA, eliminated the 50-seat bonus for the winning party in a 300-member parliament, which made a second ballot necessary. New Democracy amended the law to provide a bonus of 20-50 seats for the winner of a second round, depending on the percentage of the vote, but current polls suggest that a coalition government would still be necessary.
One possible scenario is a center-right and center-left government formed by New Democracy, PASOK, and KINAL, but this would require PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis to put aside his anger over having his phone bugged by the government and National Intelligence Service EYP.
The train crash could dominate headlines during the election campaign, particularly with memorial services for the victims, and New Democracy is reportedly hoping that the anger will subside before the elections. It could also overshadow other issues, such as Mitsotakis’ claims of modernizing the Greek bureaucracy with high technology but allowing the railways to operate with walkie-talkies and manual switching. Additionally, some analysts suggest that the three smaller parties in Parliament, who are politically irrelevant and have little to do but complain, could gain more support, including MeRA25, which could impact Mitsotakis’ chances of winning outright.
SYRIZA’s past actions have burdened the party, as former premier Alexis Tsipras failed to keep his promises and instead imposed austerity measures he had vowed to resist. Tsipras justified his actions by claiming that they were necessary to secure the country’s third bailout of 86 billion euros ($91.81 billion).
“At a time when society is demanding answers regarding the tragedy in Tempi, the ministers and executives of the ruling New Democracy party are engaging in cynicism and irresponsibility,” SYRIZA stated.
“The citizens demand transparency and honesty. It’s time to put an end to irresponsibility and hypocrisy,” said the main opposition, as reported by the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA.