Divisions rise to the fore as Greece heads for new vote

Greece
Thu, 1 Jun 2023 7:44 GMT
5 seats short of parliamentary majority, New Democracy eyes single-party government in June 25 elections.
Divisions rise to the fore as Greece heads for new vote

A week ago, Greece's ruling center-right party, New Democracy (ND), won parliamentary elections in a resounding landslide, falling just short of a legislative majority.

Five more seats would have delivered ND a single-party government. Now, it hopes to achieve just that in the upcoming second-round elections on June 25.

In the May 21 ballot, ND got over 40%, a surprise result that secured 146 seats in the 300-member chamber, for the party headed by former Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the scion of a political dynasty whose father served as premier, his sister a foreign minister, and his nephew the current mayor of Athens.

Syriza, the main opposition, came second with a little over 20% of the vote and 71 seats, a sharp plunge from its standing in the previous polls, while the social democrat PASOK was third.

Greeks have long been polarized between left-wing parties on the one hand and ND on the other. Experts believe Mitsotakis' firm politics and recent economic growth were what got his party its wide lead, far exceeding the mere 6-7% gap with Syriza predicted by most polls.

Mitsotakis headed the country's last government, elected in 2019 after a decade marked by economic difficulty that culminated in a 2015 referendum on a bailout deal and harsh austerity measures.

The administration of his predecessor, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza, had been elected in 2015 amid a government debt crisis and negotiations with the EU. While Tsipras had promised to form an anti-bailout government, he disappointed many of his supporters by imposing more austerity measures and extra taxes that helped the country run a budget surplus and avoid default but were deeply unpopular.

Scandal and tragedy

These economic challenges have somewhat subsided now, with markets rebounding as GDP saw marked growth of nearly 6% last year.

However, Mitsotakis' administration has also been implicated in a wiretapping scandal that resulted in his nephew, who was working as the prime minister's chief of staff, and the head of Greece's intelligence agency stepping down.

Another stain on his term was a tragic train accident in February that killed at least 57 people, mostly students, near the northern town of Tempi. Soaring cost of living and energy prices are also among his weak spots, leaving many voters and politicians surprised at the elections' outcome.

"Another four years? How is it that Greeks had such a good time (under the last government) that they wanted to reelect him?" said a citizen in Athens who spoke to Anadolu but did not want to reveal her identity.

"We have seen prices go sky-high in recent months. Electricity prices are so high. Are we going to keep living with vouchers that the government offers us as if we're beggars?" she said, disillusioned at the outcome of the elections.

"Did they forget the 57 people who died at Tempi?" she exclaimed.

The deadly train accident played a particularly major role in the way some people voted.

One Facebook user said: "I have one thing to say ... Tempi … Have you all forgotten the accident?"

While much harsher comments were made, others argue that the deadly accident was used for political gain.

"As a resident of Mati — where the fire of 2018 took place and 103 people died when Syriza was in power — I'm disappointed and hurt by the selectivity of our society on the way they support the victims of both tragedies," Marina Karyda, a local private sector employee, told Anadolu.

Karyda believes choosing victims of a particular disaster to support "according to whether it serves one's party choices" is little more than hypocrisy.

It is also hypocritical to seek political responsibilities only if they do not concern the party one votes for, she added.

A survivor of the Mati fire along with her daughters, Karyda said they escaped the blaze on their own accord, without the help of authorities.

"A section of society not only did not feel outraged by the cover-up of the accountability but kept silent and put up with the lies against the victims in order not to offend the party they support."

Political campaigns

ND managed to win the elections by "capitalizing on its successes in critical areas," such as unemployment, investment, digitization of the state, defense, pension hikes and payments, and immigration, Eftychis Vardoulakis, a strategy and communications consultant in Athens, told Anadolu.

The ruling party also harnessed a strong social current in favor of political stability, said Vardoulakis, adding that its campaign was disciplined and focused on specific messages, unlike Syriza, "which only produced a blurred message."

Syriza's main failure was its inability to renew its practices and rhetoric from the tensions caused by an economic crisis over a decade ago, while society, Vardoulakis asserted, has "moved beyond this."

The main opposition party under Tsipras, meanwhile, remains "trapped in a cruel, fanatical audience with a completely distorted picture of the situation that actually prevailed in the country."

For ND, the challenges of the past four years weigh heavily, but some believe Mitsotakis deserves a second chance since the country has been seeing positive economic trends, with credit rating agencies predicting further improvement.

"The result has shown that people are in favor of New Democracy," Houdoumadis Giorgos, a self-employed resident of Athens, told Anadolu.

"I believe this percentage gained by New Democracy leaves no room for misinterpretation," he added, explaining that the results indicated a desire for stability.

This sentiment was echoed by public sector worker Dimitra Karabela, a resident of Athens, who was optimistic about the years ahead under another Mitsotakis.

"Yes, there are issues in this country, and that was obvious in the past four years. But, I believe people will give Mitsotakis another chance."

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