Emergence of Centre Right Wave in Greece

Photo source: Christian Science Monitor

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

After the resurgent New Democracy, rose to power, in Greece, it seemed that the left-wing populism, and an era of fragile coalitions, was clobbered, as Kyriakos Mitsotakis had secured a decisive, and comfortable mandate, in the 2019 Greek election, mainly because he vowed to end the financial crises, during his campaigns.

After the election result, he stood up on the podium, over Acropolis, and was clicked by photojournalists, in a jubilant mood.

A former investment banker, he was seen by many Greeks, as a tireless campaigner, who tried to listen, to the woes of common people. His focus, during election campaigns, was mostly on economic recovery, negotiating better terms with creditors, promises of lower public taxation, attracting foreign investment, and creating jobs. He also had a strong political slogan, with an impactful message: ‘the need for Greeks is to get out and vote’.

Amid the economic woes, the youth, whose frustration is highest, having unemployment rate, of around forty per cent, have immigrated to other countries, and are turning conservative. It is because they see past politics as ‘revolutionary rhetoric’, giving no visible change around. It reflects that democracy can produce unexpected results.

In the past, Mitsotakis, had been credited, for rebuilding Europe’s traditional political bloc, of conservatives. He even did some military service, in the small agricultural town of Almyros. In fact, his family and relatives are deep-rooted in Greek political culture. Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the son of former Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, one of the country’s longest-serving parliamentarians. His sister, Dora Bakoyannis is a former minister and Athens’ first female mayor. And the new Athens mayor Costas Bakoyannis, elected in May 2019, is his nephew. In 2002, Greek authorities, under his leadership, dismantled an armed far-right extremist group, known as Members of November 17, wanted for multiple attacks and killings.

But the irony is that as a political leader, it was not long ago, when his political party had also been accused of cronyism, and corrupt political practices. Despite his election win, there are many people, in Greece, who believe that his political party, New Democracy, is a notorious party, responsible for Greece’s burdening economic problems in the past, thereby giving the country a reason, to ought for bailout programmes.

Before the election, some local analysts claim that during Tsipras’s, left-wing coalition rule, Athens borrowing costs hit the lowest, since May 26, 2019, European vote. The coalition, however, was viewed as a confused amalgam of leftists, social democrats, conservatives, and rightwing populists, defending neo-liberal policies that Syriza, once threatened to clampdown, as, in their perceptions, the political thought harmed the Eurozone. They had also, controversially, gone forward, in consent with the troika – the consortium of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF, much more than any of its predecessors.

In the summer of 2015, when Tsipras made this astonishing U-turn, accepting the troika’s bailout deal, with many clauses attached, including austerity, until 2060, and revenue from privatisation, going to an international fund, until 2014, it resulted in a cultural and political anxiety, within the common Greeks. Tsipras had defied the earlier 2015 referendum, where sixty-one per cent of Greeks backed rejections, of the bailouts of the troika, only to see their votes becoming valueless, through a new deal. This might have been a starting point, which gave a vent, to a right-wing wave, inside Greece, as populists didn’t seem to deliver.

Noting this development, Professor Wolfgang Streeck, of the Max Planck Institute, recently commented: ‘Tsipras became Angela Merkel’s favourite disciple in the art of treason’.

Whether the political parties in Greece, associate themselves, with the left, or the right, the ordinary Greeks, the hopeful voters, have suffered the most, due to Janus-faced politicians over the course of time. During the years of recession, Greeks stood, in quite lanes, outside the banks, taking small amount of cash, as a lockdown, on the local financial system, marred them, from having access, to their savings, as an economic solution. Now, some commentators also believe that Tsipras's friendliness with Trump, Netanyahu, and Saudi monarchy, is a complete departure, of what Syriza actually stood for.

Athanasia Kokkinogeni, Europe's senior analyst for the consulting firm, Ducker Frontier, told CNBC, through an email that during 2010-2014, the Greek people suffered in high degrees, by paying high taxes, cuts in salary, pension, and rising unemployment. This had resulted in collective despair of people, resulting in nationwide protests, on the streets.

In the opposition, Mitsotakis’s party faces stiff competition, from the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, and the ultra national Greek solution, a new political alliance, that has channeled anger, over the controversial name change accord, Tsipras drafted, with North Macedonia, in 2018. It was called the Prespa agreement. There are also smaller parties, such as Yanis Varoufakis’s MeRA25, that accounted for nearly 20 per cent of the vote, in the European election. Then there are analysts, who question why Syriza calls itself, to be a coalition of left.

Varoufakis, in the past, worked with Tsipras, as a minister for finance, but now has appeal, among younger Greeks, who see the promise in him, as a ‘telegenic showman’. However, Mitsotakis recently gave a strong parable, to the public, where he believed that political divisions won't benefit a small country, such as Greece, having EU’s two per cent population. That’s why Mitsotakis vowed to the opposition parties, and ordinary Greeks, at large, that he will fight for a better role within the EU.

Tsipras not only suffered a huge setback, during the European elections in May 2019, but Syriza’s share of vote also plummeted, in this election, since four years ago, when the vote share was at its peak.

According to a Guardian article, written by the director of politics at Coventry University, Alexander Kazamias: ‘the painful truth about Syriza is that it has ruled Greece for four years as a party suffering from identity loss and diminishing credibility. Its record in government has been so full of compromises and retreats that it now hovers across the political spectrum like an amorphous haze, a phantom of its old self, without much shape, or substance’.

On the contrary, Tsipras, believed that Mitsotakis family, one of Greece’s leading political dynasties, was part of a failed system, which bankrupted Greece, in 2010. Although, in his term, he ended the third consecutive bailout program, in August 2018.


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