Greece’s ‘earthquake’ of an election: a right-wing triumph

PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis led his New Democracy party to victory on 21 May

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis waves at crowds of supporters after elections in Greece on 21 May
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party are seeking an outright majority at further election on 25 June
(Image credit: Aris Messinis / AFP via Getty Images)

Not long ago, Greece was Europe’s “economic and political problem child”, said Alan Posener in Die Welt (Berlin). The 2010 debt crisis had led to a 25% contraction in its economy – unemployment had hit 27%; people were rioting in the streets – and as a condition of receiving the massive bailouts required, the government was forced to impose strict austerity measures.

But now, after years of economic pain, Greece is finally putting those dark days behind it. Its economy grew at the seventh-fastest rate of any in the EU in 2022; unemployment has plummeted. And Greece’s centre-right PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is reaping the rewards, said Kathimerini (Athens). Last week, his New Democracy party trounced its rivals to emerge as the largest in parliament. Describing the result as an “earthquake”, Mitsotakis has called for new elections on 25 June in search of an outright majority.

‘Respectable defeat’

The result, marking the first time a ruling party has increased its vote share in Greece in 40 years, owed much to the opposition’s failings, said Lefteris Kousoulis in To Vima (Athens). The left-wing Syriza party had surged to power at the height of the eurozone crisis, governing for four years before falling to a “respectable” defeat to Mitsotakis in 2019. But it failed utterly to refresh its image under the leadership of former PM Aléxis Tsípras, and has been punished for it: it won just 20% of the vote last week.

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Tsípras was paying the price for his failures during the austerity years, said El País (Madrid). He’d won a mandate in 2015 to resist the harsh conditions imposed by the lenders bailing out Greece; instead, he went along with them, impoverishing millions of Greeks and undermining his own credibility in the process.

‘Authoritarian drift’

Mitsotakis’s victory was not assured, said Bart Beirlant in De Standaard (Brussels). Inflation still rages; poverty is widespread; and many felt his handling of the horrific train crash in February would destroy his chances. But he was able to ride out those disasters, said Camille Pagella in Le Temps (Geneva), because, like his Turkish counterpart, President Erdogan, he knows how to take advantage of a fragmented opposition.

Under him, as with Erdogan, there has been a marked “authoritarian drift”. Last year there was a scandal after intelligence services were found to have been spying on opposition politicians and journalists. In this year’s World Press Freedom ranking, Greece came last among the EU countries. Mitsotakis was a clear winner last week; it’s not clear that Greece was.

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