Why it’s going to be no easy for ride for Greece’s new prime minister

  09 July 2019    Read: 1078
Why it’s going to be no easy for ride for Greece’s new prime minister

Greece’s new prime minister was sworn in on Monday after the centre-right New Democracy party capitalised on voters’ disillusionment with the radical leftist Syriza party.

The victory of Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been hailed by commentators around the world as a defeat of populism and a return-to-normal for Greece. But, in a country that has suffered the worst recession experienced by a developed economy, challenges abound for the new government.

“It’s a great result for Mitsotakis,” said Yiannis Mouzakis, co-editor of Greek economics site MacroPolis.

“He has a clear parliamentary majority and enough rule over his party to move ahead with more liberal economic ideas he has.”

However, Mr Mouzakis warned that the new prime minister will not have an easy ride.

Mr Mitsotakis has promised tax cuts, but these rely on convincing Greece’s creditors to lower the country’s fiscal targets which, as Mr Mouzakis cautioned, is “going to be a hard job”.

Similarly, the prime minister’s plan to attract more foreign investment is going to be tough when there is still a €30bn gap between current and pre-crisis levels.

Mr Mitsotakis, whose father Konstantinos was prime minister in the early 1990s, is seen as a moderate centrist. However, his party contains many nationalist elements and is traditionally close with the Orthodox church. It is also blamed by many for the economic mismanagement that led to the country’s crisis. 

“I don’t see very good news,” said Aris Hatzis, professor of philosophy and law at the University of Athens, who previously told The Independentthat one of Mr Mitsotakis’s main challenges will be modernising his party. “I have seen the MPs that conservative voters prefer, and most of them are coming from the old New Democracy that bankrupted the country.”

However, he said that the new cabinet is more socially liberal and market-orientated than the overall makeup of the party, adding: “The downside is there are only five women.”

Another surprise of the night was that Syriza drew a greater vote share than expected – the party managed 31.53 per cent compared to New Democracy’s 39.85 per cent. Pre-election polling had put them double-digits behind the favourites.

“Syriza’s supporters were mobilised, whereas New Democracy supporters were not so active because they thought it was an easy victory,” said Mr Hatzis. It also appeared that Syriza managed to mobilise the youth vote at the last minute.

Outgoing prime minister Alexis Tsipras is set to stay on as the party’s leader and Mr Hatzis believe he will return to the fiery, opportunistic tactics he used when in opposition prior to 2015. However, he may have “a thorn in his side” in the form of former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who is re-entering the Greek parliament after his new party Diem25 won 4.44 per cent of the vote.

“He will be targeting Syriza’s voters rather than New Democracy’s,” said Mr Hatzis. “He will likely make Tsipras’s life miserable sometimes.”

Many are celebrating the fact that neo-Nazi Golden Dawn – previously the third-largest party in parliament – failed to gain any seats. However, observers caution that this is not because far-right ideas have disappeared. The new nationalist Greek Solution party split the vote share and won 10 seats in parliament. It is led by conspiracy theorist Kyriakos Velopoulos, who used to claim to sell handwritten letters from Jesus on his TV show.

“He’s not as smart as Varoufakis, but he will probably cause some havoc,” said Mr Hatzis.

And despite Mr Mitsotakis’s reputation as a liberal and anti-populist, he appeared to have won far-right voters by taking a hard stance on immigration and exploiting popular dissatisfaction with the Macedonia name deal.

He attacked Mr Tsipras for the outcome of the deal, which was supported by the EU and Nato, but later admitted he was unable to change it.

“Mitsotakis is a centrist figure but many members of his party are not,” agrees Daphne Halikiopoulou, associate professor of politics at the University of Reading and an expert on the far-right. “It’s not as blatant a populism as Syriza used to be, but there are many populist elements to the party.”

Another crucial feature of the election which should not be overlooked is the fact voter turnout was a mere 57.89 per cent – the lowest ever recorded in Greece.

“There’s still a lot of disillusionment and the line is very fine,” warned Ms Halikiopoulou. “I think we need to be very careful with all this talk of a return to normality.”


The Independent

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