Thursday, December 7, 2023
 
 

Back to Business: Greek conservatives rout socialist opposition parties in second round elections

Second round Greek elections go off precisely as PM Mitsotakis had predicted, but small far right parties score gains

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Delivering an undeniable demonstration of Greece’s current focus on stability and the need to generate continued economic growth, the June 25 election produced the near-landslide outcome that most Greek voters have long understood was necessary to achieve that result – a single party center-right government was overwhelmingly elected for another four-year term.  Most voters had understood after the May 21st elections that this was their most logical election choice, and the June election campaign drew less anticipation and participation than the earlier round.

The repudiation of the socialist opposition party’s lack of a strong growth policy, along with its almost nauseating negative campaigning, was so total as to constitute a clear second rout for Syriza after the first round in May.

This time, however, Syiza was trounced under an election system that existed before Syriza tried to re-engineer those rules to its own benefit after scoring an election victory eight years ago.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in June 26; his new cabinet took the oath of office on June 27. As expected, the new cabinet is largely a rotation of well known politicians, most of whom – 17 of the total 24 – have already successfully served as ministers.

While Mitsotakis does not fail to mention the word “reform” on almost every possible occasion, the results he delivered in his first term were considerable, but far from outstanding. The reasons for this are obvious, i.e. – the deep reforms to the still-bloated and inefficient public sector that Greece desperately needs would have cost him votes.

Results for key parties largely as expected

The center-right New Democracy party received 40.55% of the recorded vote, winning 158 seats in the 300-seat parliament, sufficient to govern without coalition partners.  The leftist Syriza received 17.48%, yielding the party a mere 48 seats, while announcing upbeat plans to overhaul its leadership structure after being humiliated at the ballot box. On June 29, four days after the party’s second electoral rout, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras announced his resignation.

The number three party, the center left party Pasok, received 11.85% of the vote to land a total of 32 seats in parliament. This was far fewer than the fading Syriza, it’s rival on the left that Pasok so heavily challenged and had hoped to eclipse.  The Greek Communist Party, or KKE- one of the world’s last Stalinist parties – took 7.69% of the votes to win 20 parliamentary seats.

Overall participation was recorded at 52.2%, compared to 61.1% in May, which many attribute to hot weather as well as boredom.

On the sidelines, strange movements

Because the May elections framed the eventual outcome so clearly for most voters, a good number of voters appear to have concluded that voting for minor parties would have more political impact than voting for any of the top four parties, essentially a justification for gaming the system. As a result, eight political parties passed the three percent threshold for entering parliament whereas in May only five parties passed the threshold.

Three of those parties occupy the political space to the right of New Democracy, while one is marginally left of Syriza, but personality based.  Together they were able to obtain 42 seats in parliament.  Despite the small total, there is significant concern because two of the parties are essentially unknown, and two or three are widely suspected of receiving indirect foreign support.

The “Greek Solution” party has been in Parliament since 2019 and is a right nationalist/religious group known to be sympathetic to Russia; it is widely viewed as a recipient of aid from Moscow through convoluted channels.  The party received 12 seats in parliament with 4.44% of the vote.

The “Spartans” is a largely unknown political party that received 4.64% of the vote and 12 seats in parliament. Founded by Vasilis Stigkas in 2017, the party occupied far right YouTube space and participated in many minor right-wing coalitions and joint electoral tickets but made little headway.  Stigkas’ big break came earlier this month, when the party’s request to participate in the June elections was approved by the Greek Supreme Court.

Almost immediately, support for the Spartans was announced from banned ultra-right wing political activist Ilias Kasidiaris formerly of Golden Dawn fame, now outlawed, himself unable to participate directly in the election.

Greek analysts now consider the Spartans to be the indirect representatives of Kasidiaris and his ilk, and the foreign media have zeroed in on the latest right-wing flash in the pan as the newest threat to Greek democracy.  There has already been some discussion in the Greek media about potentially banning the Spartans from parliament due to the growing evidence of links to Kasidiaris. Others are questioning why the party was hastily approved to run in the June election.

Another perhaps less worrisome small right-wing party “Victory” (Niki) received 3.7% of the votes and 10 seats in parliament. Extremely conservative on social and religious issues, it opposes Greek aid to Ukraine as well as the 2018 Prespes Agreement with North Macedonia.

Funding from Greek oligarchs and shipowners with unsavory connections is widely suspected.  With a major focus on improving Greece’s strained educational system, “Victory” did not pass the three percent threshold in the May elections.

Also failing to achieve the three percent electoral threshold in May, the left-leaning but politically nebulous “Course of Freedom” party was able to cross the threshold this time to obtain eight seats with 3.17% of the vote.  Party founder and former Syriza hardliner Zoe Konstantopoulou relabeled herself as “anti-establishment” to set up the party; her claim to fame under Syriza was the fruitless “Debt Truth Committee” that she launched in 2015 as the Syriza-designated President of Parliament which achieved absolutely nothing because Greece’s creditors ignored her efforts in their entirety while forcing then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to reverse his party’s entire electoral platform regarding the debt issue and to accept creditors’ reform demands in totality.

As the only female party leader in Parliament, one should expect Konstantopoulou will be accorded more western media attention than her almost non-existent record of political accomplishments could ever justify. Her decision to place her male partner in a high position on the party’s electoral list, which secured him a seat in parliament, has raised significant questions about her party’s leadership ethics in the Greek media.

 

 

 

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Co-founder and Executive Director for Global Economics and Southeast Europe at NE Global Media.  Former US diplomat with previous assignments in Eastern Europe, the UN, SE Asia, Greece, across the Balkans, as well as Washington DC.

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