With resounding win in Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis tightens grip on power
Voters seemed to embrace Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s approach to the economy and tough stance on migration, and were less concerned about revelations of spying on the opposition.
By NIKI KITSANTONIS
Greek voters on Sunday overwhelmingly reelected the conservative New Democracy party, preliminary results showed, setting the stage for its leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to strengthen his grip on power with an absolute majority and what he called a “strong mandate” for the foreseeable future.
With his landslide victory, voters appeared to have overlooked his government’s ties to a series of scandals and embraced his promise of continued economic stability and prosperity.
With 91% of the votes counted at 9:45 p.m., the party had 40.5%, and was poised to win 158 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament, far ahead of the opposition Syriza party, which was in second place with 17.8%, with 47 seats. The socialist Pasok party took third place, with 12.5%, and got 32 seats.
In a statement from his party’s headquarters in Athens, the capital, Mitsotakis described the results as “a strong mandate, to move more quickly along the road of major changes.”
He also said of those who had voted: “In a resounding and mature way, they put a definitive end to a traumatic cycle of toxicity that had held the country back and divided society.”
Turnout, however, was just over 52%, compared with 61% in the first elections held in May, according to preliminary results. Earlier Sunday, Greek television showed images of packed beaches following a final week of campaigning in which politicians had appealed to voters not to forsake their vote for the waves.
New Democracy won the first election in May by 20 percentage points — the largest margin in decades. But it had fallen short of the votes necessary for an absolute majority in parliament. Mitsotakis, who as prime minister had overseen a period of economic stability and tough anti-migrant measures, opted to head for a second vote conducted under a system that grants bonus seats in parliament to the winning party.
The gambit worked.
Now, with an expected solid majority in parliament, Mitsotakis will have more freedom in policymaking and will most likely spur international credit rating agencies to lift their ratings on Greece’s bonds — which have lingered in junk status — to the much-coveted investment grade, lowering the country’s borrowing costs.
Mitsotakis was brought to power in the 2019 election, when his party also won 158 seats. He served as prime minister until May this year, then stepped aside following the inconclusive vote.
He has vowed to continue focusing on prosperity, appealing to voters who seemed to overlook revelations about the wiretapping of an opposition leader by the state intelligence service, a fatal train crash in February that killed 57 people and a catastrophic shipwreck off Greece that killed hundreds of migrants as the government was facing fierce criticism for its hard-line migration policies.
“I never promise miracles,” he said on Sunday, “but I can assure you that I will remain faithful to my duty, with planning, devotion and chiefly hard work.” He added that his second term could “transform” Greece with dynamic growth rates that would increase wages and reduce inequalities, and he vowed, “I will be the prime minister of all Greeks.”
Greece’s economy stabilized under Mitsotakis after a decadelong financial crisis that shattered Greek society and shook the eurozone. Growth this year has been twice the eurozone’s average, spurred by his government’s tax cuts, while wages and pensions have risen and large investors are again pumping money into the economy.
These achievements have reassured many Greeks who feared a return to the uncertainty and upheaval of the crisis years, analysts say.
“One should not underestimate what this economic stability and growth means in material but also in psychological terms for a country which has been on the brink of economic collapse in the previous decade,” said Lamprini Rori, a professor of political analysis at the University of Athens.
Strengthening the country’s international image and position, and bolstering people’s sense of security and national pride, all meant a “positive calculus” for New Democracy, she said.
The center-left Syriza is led by Alexis Tsipras, under whose watch Greece came close to leaving the eurozone in 2015. Tsipras had promised justice and change, calling Mitsotakis arrogant and his government “an unaccountable regime that is a danger to society.”
On Sunday, Tsipras said the election result was chiefly negative for society and democracy. The fact that three hard-right parties were set to enter parliament, along with New Democracy, was a “warning bell,” he said.
Analysts said the opposition had trouble gaining traction amid a rejuvenated economy.
“The opposition’s narrative was ‘down with the junta’ and ‘we’ve become a banana republic,’” said Harry Papasotiriou, a professor of international relations at Panteio University in Athens. “But people saw economic growth.”
With New Democracy’s dominance pretty much undisputed, Tsipras is likely to face new questions about his future, as there is no clear potential successor to the charismatic former communist firebrand.
Syriza also had to contend with increased support for hard-left fringe parties, including Sailing for Freedom, which was formed by former Syriza official Zoe Konstantopoulou and was poised to gain national representation for the first time. It picked up 3.1% of the vote, or eight seats.
The support for fringe parties demonstrated the failure of both the Syriza and Pasok parties to convince voters that they can offer a dynamic opposition, Rori said.
Apart from Mitsotakis’ strong showing, the small, relatively unknown party, Spartans, did surprisingly well, and appeared poised to enter parliament with 13 seats after winning 4.7% of the votes.
The party, which has a nationalist, anti-migrant stance, had not registered in opinion polls until a few weeks before the elections in June, when Ilias Kasidiaris, the jailed former spokesperson of the now-defunct neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, publicly backed it after his own party had been banned from running because of his criminal convictions.
In a televised statement, Spartans’ leader Vasilis Stingas thanked Kasidiaris for his support, which he said had been the “fuel” for the party’s success, adding, “We’re here to unite, not divide.”
Other smaller parties on track to enter parliament include the little-known ultra-Orthodox, pro-Russia, hard-right Niki party, with 10 seats. It started gaining support in the weeks before the May election.
The presence of new smaller anti-systemic parties in Greece’s next parliament will bring more voices into the chorus of criticism against Mitsotakis — but not necessarily in a productive way, according to Rori.
She remembered chaotic sessions involving Golden Dawn and Konstantopoulou, and fears a degeneration of Greece’s political opposition.
“It was all about impressions, stalemates, toxicity,” she said.