New Democracy, Old Promises – Center-Right Wins Greek Elections

As expected, center-right opposition party New Democracy (ND) won Greece’s snap elections on Sunday.  Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), conceded defeat to his rival, Kyriakos MitsotakisWith about 90% of districts reporting at press time, ND is on pace for a majority government in the Hellenic Parliament, thanks to the country’s “winner’s bonus” electoral system.  While voters seem to have delivered a strong mandate for change, and Greece has officially exited the European Union’s bailout programs, tackling the country’s enormous unemployment may prove a herculean task.

Outgoing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses the press, following his party’s defeat in the 2019 Greek legislative elections. Tsipras insisted it was “not a strategic defeat” for Syriza.

For Mitsotakis, Sunday was equal parts partisan victory and personal triumph.  ND beat Syriza by better than eight points, 39.8% to 31.6%, at the latest count.  It also marks a return to the family business for the Mitsotakis dynasty.  Known as the Iron Gentleman, Konstantinos Mitsotakis was Prime Minister from 1990 to 1993.  Kyriakos’ sister, Dora Bakoyannis, was Mayor of Athens during the 2004 Olympics, before becoming Foreign Minister.  Sunday marked a return to the old guard, which had been widely blamed for Greece’s fiscal and economic problems, and swept out of power four years ago.

It was a mixed bag for the opposition parties.  Syriza will, by a comfortable margin, land in second place, with around 86 seats, behind ND’s 158, in the 300-member Parliament.  The new center-left alliance, Movement for Change (KA), came in third, with 22 seats, and the Communists (KKE) kept the 15 seats they had four years ago.  Golden Dawn (XA), one of the few avowedly neo-Nazi parties allowed— much less represented— in Europe, appeared to miss the 3% electoral threshold and will lose all 18 of its seats.  Meanwhile, pro-Russia Greek Solution (EL) and far-left Syriza offshoot, European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25), made their parliamentary debut, with 10 and 9 seats, respectively.

Preliminary results for the 2019 Greek legislative elections. Center-right ND won with 158 seats (+83), governing far-left Syriza came in second with 86 (-59). The center-left KA third, communist KKE fourth. New parties include EL and MeRA25.

Tsipras’ shock victory in 2015 represented a new era in international politics, and a new hope for democratic socialism.  The first of the populists— left or right— swept to power in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Tsipras promised to deliver a one-fingered salute to Brussels by tearing up the humiliating bailout agreement and ending austerity.  However, reality set in, quickly and hard, forcing the overpromising Tsipras to underdeliver, and agree to a third bailout.  While he initially survived a revolt from his own party, winning another election in the process, by the time local and European parliamentary elections rolled around in May, the writing was on the wall.  Tsipras is now the first of the populists to be turned out of power.

There was nothing complicated or unusual about ND’s conservative platform, which include tax cuts and privatization.  Mitsotakis, and his ministers, will have plenty on their plate in their upcoming term.  Dancing with the one who brought you is a near-universal rule in politics, and ND won Sunday thanks in large part to younger voters.  Suffering from high unemployment, and fed up with Syriza, 18-24 year olds voted for ND and change.  The new finance minister will also have to get to work right away on a budget that can appease its voters and satisfy its creditors.  “Give me 12 months,” Mitsotakis asked, “to convince our creditors, the international capital markets that we actually mean business, that Greece can actually change.”  Greece’s worst days are, arguably, over, but Mitsotakis’ clock will start Monday.

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Robert Martin (CN Staff)

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