Upcoming Greek elections: What to expect?

Visit of the Greek Prime Minister and President of Nea Dimokratia, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to Piraeus.

Visit of the Greek Prime Minister and President of Nea Dimokratia, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to Piraeus.

© picture alliance / ANE / Eurokinissi | Sotiris Dimitropoulos / Eurokinissi

Greece is now only a few days away from its parliamentary elections taking place on May 21st, in which voters will elect the 300 members of the Greek parliament for the next 4 years, only to probably vote again on July 2nd, since the new electoral system makes it difficult for any party to gather a majority and no coalition building is foreseen.

Greece’s newly applied electoral system and how it affects coalitions

These will be the first elections since 1990 in which the electoral system in Greece will not use a bonus seats system. The reinforced proportional representation electoral system, one of its kind, was the norm for Greece for many years. Under this system, most seats were elected by proportional representation, but the party with the most votes got a fixed bonus of 50 seats. The system favored a single-party parliamentary majority from the first round of elections, creating a culture somewhat hostile to unnecessary, as they were, political coalitions.

After experiencing an economic crisis, significant political upheaval, the country witnessed the collapse of the traditional two-party system and a sequence of coalition governments emerging during critical times. This period also brought about a significant institutional transformation in 2016, when the SYRIZA (radical left), which served as a major partner in the government, proposed a bill to eliminate the reinforced proportionality system. Instead, they introduced a party-list proportional representation system, which aimed to make coalition governments more prevalent. Under this new system, single-party parliamentary majorities, which were previously common under different electoral systems, could now only be attained with a minimum vote share of 45%. Since, of course, a 2/3 majority is required by the constitution for a new electoral system to be immediately applied in the next elections (2019), this new system will only be applied in the elections of 2023.

However, the fate of the bill took a turn in 2020 when the New Democracy government (center-right) repealed the party-list proportional representation system. Instead, they reintroduced a system similar to the reinforced majority system. The key difference is that the magnitude of the majority bonus now depends on the national vote share of the largest party. This bonus ranges from a minimum of 20 seats for a vote share of 25% to a maximum of 50 seats for vote shares of 40% and above. It's important to note that if the first party's vote share falls below 25%, no majority bonus will be awarded to them. This change also signifies that an absolute majority can be achieved by the leading party if it receives 38% of the votes. This system will apply if a second round of elections takes place.

Given these political system developments and the consistent statements by the current Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, emphasizing New Democracy's goal to achieve a parliamentary majority without relying on a coalition government, it is highly likely that a second round of voting will occur three weeks after the initial round. However, based on the current polls, it appears extremely challenging for a majority government to be formed even after the second round. Thus, it is probable that a coalition will be necessary, as the leading party would need to secure approximately 38% of the vote in the second round to establish a thin majority.

The political parties landscape

Out of the 50 political parties that applied for participation in the 2023 national elections to the Supreme Court, 36 were judged to be eligible and given the go-ahead to run. Of course, according to national polls performed in recent months, not many of them appear to be electable.

The most recent polls available, indicate voting intentions for the elections on Sunday as follows: New Democracy (center-right) under the leadership of current Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with 33,4%, SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance (radical left) under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras with 27,3%, PASOK-Movement for Change [KINAL] (center-left) under the leadership of Nikos Androulakis with 9,2%, Communist Party of Greece under Secretary General Dimitris Koutsoumpas with 6,6%, Greek Solution (far-right) leader Kyriakos Velopoulos with 3,3%, and MeRA25 (radical left/greens) under Secretary Yanis Varoufakis with 3,6% (GPO Opinion Poll, May 2023).

It is also worth noting that the current elections exhibit a record high number of undecided voters (8.5%, according to the same opinion survey), as well as low voter turnout in the first round, as voters appear to underestimate its importance, and plan to participate in the second.

Significant events that influenced the vote

To understand the polling results and how we arrived here, it is also necessary to highlight several crucial events with electoral significance that occurred since the initial opinion polls began.

Since 2016, New Democracy, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has never lost the lead in opinion surveys, despite the expected tendency of every government party gradually losing support to the opposition, which was not the case in Greece. SYRIZA never received New Democracy's dwindling support. This became clear following the Tempi train crash, which resulted in widespread grief after the deaths of 57 people, when New Democracy lost a significant portion of its support, transforming it into an uncertain vote.

Another significant incident was the Supreme Court's decision to bar the Greeks Party (far-right) from running in the upcoming election. Its leader, Ilias Kasidiaris, has been convicted as a leading member of the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn. The decision left the party’s voters, who ranged in polls from 2-4%, set to seek political representation elsewhere.

Last but not least, the political leaders debate, held ten days before the elections, underlined New Democracy's trend of gradually regaining lost support, without having a significant impact on predicted votes for other parties.

It is also worth noting that, despite the Greek wiretapping scandal, which involved the long-term and widespread monitoring of the mobile phones of prominent Greek political figures such as PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis, journalists, and other government members, the scandal had little to no impact on voters. Nonetheless, the controversy has had a significant impact on the prospect of the two parties, New Democracy and PASOK, forming a coalition, given that their policies match in important political areas, and in fact match more than any other party in the Greek political scene, as demonstrated by the Regulatory Quality Index published in Greece by the Center for Liberal Studies.

Based on all of the above, the key takeaway for readers all over the world is that a government is extremely unlikely to emerge following Greece's May 21 elections, and the country is expected to hold a second round of elections in July.