New centre-right government in Greece faces tough challenges
Wednesday, 10 July 2019
The parliamentary elections in Greece on Sunday resulted in a change of power with Kyriakos Mitsotakis from the centre-right party New Democracy defeating Alexis Tsipras from leftist Syriza on promises of reforms in a country that just has emerged from years of economic and social crisis.
European Council president Jean-Claude Juncker was quick in congratulating Mitsotakis and wrote to him (7 July) that he has “full confidence in his personal capacity and in the capacity of the Greek people to open a new, brighter chapter” in the history of Greece.
The early elections had been announced by Tsipras after his party was defeated by New Democracy in the European Parliament elections last May.
With 40 % of the votes New Democracy will be able to form a majority government thanks to a majority bonus system still in place that gives the largest party extra seats in the parliament. The system will be abolished in coming elections.
Voting is mandatory in Greece but sanctions have never been issued and voter turnout, though higher than in previous elections, was only 58 %. Syriza received 32 % of the votes, an increase compared to the European elections but not enough, followed by a number of new parties that were founded during the crisis years.
MeRA25, a left-wing party founded by former Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who left the government in protest against the austerity program imposed by Greece’s creditors, received only 3.4 %. The far-right, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which in the past had been the third largest party in Greece, received 2.9 % of the votes and did not make it to the parliament.
An EU official who travelled to Athens to vote in the elections told The Brussels Times that people did not vote for Syriza because they wanted change and had got tired of Tsipras. “They were disappointed with him since they felt that he had betrayed his leftist ideology and had ruled together with the far-right Independent Greeks party.”
The economic situation has improved – at least on paper – but recovery is slow and difficult and the adopted measures and other measures need to be applied in order to stimulate the economy.
“Mitsotakis might not be as charismatic as Tsipras but has a long working experience in the private sector prior to entering politics. He has a more modern vision of the country and wants to improve the economy by attracting investments, opening up markets, and improving business conditions, thus creating new jobs,” says the official.
Another voter living in Athens with experience of the situation in his country agreed that Tsipras lost because he had failed to deliver on his promises.
“People thought that he could take on the EU or that Greece could leave the EU and still prosper. In reality the situation remained largely the same. Doctors continue to demand bribes. Salaries and pensions have been cut while taxes have increased and are aggressively collected.”
He agrees that the economic crisis seems to be over since 2018 but the effects of the improvement are not visible yet to ordinary citizens. “I don’t expect anything different from Mitsotakis,” he says. “The economy will still be growing at snail’s pace. If he doesn’t succeed in increasing economic growth, he’ll disappoint the voters with their high expectations.”
Our concerned citizen mentions also another hurdle ahead of Mitsotakis. “He´ll have to fight the very establishment and mentality that his father created as prime minister in the early 90’s and that his party adopted in subsequent governments: cronyism, bureaucracy, the alienation of the courts and above all corruption.”
“In his election speeches Mitsotakis promised that he’ll stimulate the economy, reduce unemployment, strengthen public safety and cut taxes – but he never explained how and frankly no journalist asked him how.”
He does not mince his words. “I’m curious to see how it will play out between him and a nephew of him who recently was elected mayor of Athens, a city with plenty of problems, not the least in the city hall with its corrupt employees.”
“Don’t forget that despite the majority Mitsotakis received in the elections, 40% of the 58% who voted translates into 23% of those having the right to vote, in other words, only one in four voted for him. This means that he has no sound public support and at first failure the streets will be full of protesters as happened during the government of Tsipras.”