Another session without liberals
The Greek national elections 2019
Griechenland hat wieder eine Mehrheitsregierung: Kyriakos Mitsotakis und seine Nea Dimokratia konnte sich mit 39,9% der Wählerstimmen die Mehrheit im Parlament sichern. Alexis Tsipras Partei SYRIZA fiel auf 31,5%. Dr. Athanasios Grammenos, Griechenland-Experte der Stiftung, sieht in dieser Wahl eine Polarisierung zwischen Links und Rechts, bei der die Wähler sich für das ‘kleineren Übel’ zu entscheiden hatten. Die liberalen Kräfte in Griechenland konnten sich in diesem polarisierten Umfeld nicht behaupten. Für sie bleibt zu hoffen, dass sich Mitsotakis nun um die Reaktivierung der Wirtschaft und Privatisierung der Dienstleistungen bemüht. Einen ‘liberalen’ Richtungswechsel wird es unter Mitsotakis jedenfalls nicht geben.
Greece’s conservatives returned to power after a decisive victory in last Sunday’s snap elections. New Democracy (ND), run by Kyriakos Mitsotakis (son of Konstantinos Mitsotakis who served as Prime Minister in the early 1990s, brother of former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and uncle to newly elected mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis) has achieved an overwhelming majority in the new parliamentary session with 39,9% and 158 out of 300 seats. It is the first time since 2009 that Greece has a single-party government. “I will be working hard for all the Greeks, even those that did not vote for us. And I will begin immediately because there is no time to waste,” Mitsotakis said.
Incumbent governing SYRIZA lost significantly, but survived the crash. Disproving the recent polls that predicted a huge defeat, the party of Alexis Tsipras received 31,5% and 86 seats, establishing itself as the second pole of the current Greek political system. This observation is also the reason behind Tsipras’ proclamation to transform his party to a “broad progressive democratic political camp,” steering his party even more toward the centre.
“We accept the electoral outcome with our head held high. Four years ago, we took responsibility for a country at the edge of bankruptcy, with 28% unemployment and extreme poverty. Today we deliver a free country, with growth, with 37 billion euros reserves in the coffers, and with historically low interest rates”, Tsipras commented shortly after the announcement of the exit polls. “We took difficult decisions for which we paid a heavy political price, but this is not a strategic defeat. We will fight to make it temporary,” he added.
Mitsotakis has raised the bar rather high, especially when it comes to his economic agenda. He pledged to lower the VAT and the corporate tax, without new cuts, and to negotiate with the European creditors lowering the budget surplus. Although many regard him a moderate centrist, his party harbours members with right-wing views, and he personally owes his ascension to leadership to the hard-right faction. In fact, ND voted against all liberal bills of the last legislative session, such as the civil union for same-sex couples and the Macedonian name-issue. Thus, the next day gives little if any liberal promises.
The election result is partly driven by extreme tiredness resulting from years of austerity measures, low development rates, and high unemployment. Thus, ND might not align fully with its voters’ beliefs, but “it’s the lesser of two evils”, a citizen said to the New York Times.
Beyond the big parties’ competition, the ballot box brought a relieving surprise. The neo-Nazi party “Golden Dawn”, previously the third-largest political group, narrowly failed to reach the three-percent-threshold for representation in parliament and lost all its seats, bringing the political system back to a new normality. Nevertheless, the new Greek Parliament will not be empty of populists. The pro-Russian “Greek Solution” party, which offers a less extreme version of “Golden Dawn” elected ten MPs. Yannis Varoufakis, the controversial former Finance Minister who ran the 2015 negotiations, made it into Parliament with nine fellow MPs. Last, the social-democratic party KINAL (formerly PASOK) has ascended to third place with 22 MPs, while the Communist party (KKE) got 15.
And where are the liberals? Unfortunately, the country’s liberal audience will remain unrepresented in the new Parliament. The polarization and the deep schism between the left and the right throughout the last four-year term allowed no space for a liberal initiative to appear on the political horizon. Even if some progressive centrists staffed both parties, the timing did not favour liberals to get elected. Now, the focus is on Mitsotakis’ efforts to “kick start” the economy, attract investments, lower taxes, privatize services and renegotiate Greece's fiscal targets with creditors, as he has promised repeatedly.
Dr. Athanasios Grammenos ist Programme Manager im Stiftungsbüro in Athen.