May 23, 2023
ATHENS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy Conservatives achieved a resounding victory over the major opposition SYRIZA, although it was not sufficient to form a government yet. This outcome has left Greece’s leftist parties in disarray, struggling to recover.
Polling companies had predicted a victory margin of 6-7%, but it turned out to be over 20%. Some pollsters acknowledged that they saw it coming but felt pressured by SYRIZA not to disclose their findings.
However, the vote count rendered those concerns irrelevant, as Mitsotakis easily brushed off all the attacks from SYRIZA and the third-place PASOK-KINAL Movement for Change center-left. They attempted to portray him as elitist and out of touch, with SYRIZA leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pointing to a surveillance scandal, but to no avail.
New Democracy secured 40.79% of the vote, compared to 20.07% for SYRIZA and 11.46% for PASOK. The combined percentage of the leftist groupings was only 31.56%. The radical left MeRA25 party failed to regain entry into Parliament.
Despite another defeat at the hands of Mitsotakis and New Democracy, as was the case in the snap elections of July 2019, which Tsipras called after failing to fulfill most of his promises during his 4 ½ year tenure, Tsipras vowed to continue the fight. However, voters have not forgotten.
In 2019, during SYRIZA’s waning days, a change in electoral law eliminated the 50-seat bonus in the 300-member Parliament for the party that finishes in first place, a move aimed at potentially forcing a coalition.
Mitsotakis’ party secured 146 seats, but he declared that he would not seek a partner or proceed to a second round, likely to take place on June 25. This path aims to regain single-party rule and effectively silence the left and all opposition.
Marina Prentoulis, an Associate Professor in Politics and Media at the University of East Anglia in England and a former member of SYRIZA London, assessed the damage in a column for the British newspaper The Guardian.
“While New Democracy’s victory was not unexpected, the overwhelming share of the vote the party received is a different matter,” she stated, leaving the leftists bewildered and stumbling forward, pledging to continue their efforts in some way.
Prentoulis indicated that the left’s argument that the Conservatives were not assisting the poor and middle class – despite Mitsotakis stating that there was insufficient funding to lower the 24% Value Added Tax (VAT) on food, voters still believed he was the best person to expedite the recovery.
“The conservative government often highlights its record of growth and investment, supported by European Commission forecasts. However, the benefits of this growth have not been evenly distributed: during the same period, an increasing number of Greece’s population have struggled with low wages, meager pensions, high rents, and a burdensome cost of living crisis,” said Prentoulis.
“The disparity between what is presented on paper and the stark reality on the ground is striking. So why are the conservatives still leading, with an outright majority within their reach? It appears that the promises of stability, growth, and secure borders have paid off,” she commented on Mitsotakis’ successful campaign strategy.
While Mitsotakis can revel in his triumph, she noted that the aftermath is grim for SYRIZA, which came to power in 2015 on the wave of anger against mainstream parties before Tsipras reneged on anti-austerity promises and discouraged investors.
“There is also the issue of the deplorable state of the opposition,” she added. “The return of New Democracy to power in 2019 revealed the extent of disillusionment and hopelessness felt by Syriza’s base after voting against a bailout in a referendum, only to witness their government accepting one.”
Tsipras changed the party’s name from Radical Left to Progressive Alliance in an attempt to move towards the center-left, a space already occupied by KINAL and the remnants of the once-dominant PASOK Socialists, who disintegrated after supporting austerity measures and joining a former New Democracy government.
“This effort has failed spectacularly. Moreover, the absence of any sign of remorse or self-reflection for the years SYRIZA held power further distanced its electoral base,” she wrote.
Tsipras never offered a mea culpa to workers, pensioners, and the poor who were devastated by the austerity measures he implemented, despite initially vowing to reject them. He continued to portray his party as both rebellious and moderate, rather than extremist.
Prentoulis stated that the left’s defeat was so overwhelming that it allows Mitsotakis to disregard criticism, ranging from phone surveillance of journalists and businessmen to alleged pushbacks of refugees and protection of the corrupt. “Corruption is rampant. A series of scandals – such as a phone-tapping scandal that has been dubbed the Greek Watergate – have tarnished the Mitsotakis administration and strongly indicate the failure of the country’s institutions,” she remarked.
Not even the deaths of 57 people, many of whom were college students, in a head-on train collision on the Athens-Thessaloniki line, which was largely attributed to the government’s failure to implement safety measures, had an impact.
In fact, former Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis, who resigned shortly after the tragedy and acknowledged safety lapses, remained on the New Democracy ticket for Parliament and was rewarded with a seat.
“Perhaps these results will serve as a wake-up call for Greece’s progressive parties regarding the importance of collaborating with one another. However, if they aspire to come close to winning office, they must learn to offer more than just being an alternative to the worst-case scenario,” she concluded.
SYRIZA in Disarray After Shocking Election Defeat in Greece
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