Mitsotakis eyes majority in second vote as SYRIZA reels from crushing defeat

PoliticsGreek Politics Tags: Elections, Mitsotakis, New Democracy, PASOK-KINAL, SYRIZA, Tsipras

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis indicated no desire to form a governing coalition after his New Democracy party’s resounding win in Sunday’s elections and will, instead, lead the conservatives into a second vote later this summer, where he looks set to win an outright majority to govern Greece for another four years.

After his party secured almost 41 pct of the vote on Sunday, Mitsotakis is expected to immediately hand back the mandate to form a government, which he is due to receive on Monday. The PM indicated as much in his brief victory speech on Sunday night, making it clear that he is sticking to his belief that Greece needs a strong single-party government rather than a coalition. Mitsotakis suggested that this is also what the Greek people want, and they showed this through the way they voted on Sunday.

It is also expected that SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, whose party suffered a crushing defeat as it plummeted to 20 pct, and PASOK president Nikos Androulakis will also hand back the mandate on Monday. This will pave the way for the new Parliament, as voted for in Sunday’s election, to be sworn in and then dissolved so second elections can take place.

It has been suggested that the government would like elections to be held as soon as possible, earlier than the July 2 date that had been previously suggested. However, it is not clear if constitutionally elections can be held on June 25. This matter is likely to be cleared up swiftly so that by Tuesday it will be clear when the next elections will be.

After winning such a resounding victory in which the conservatives won all but one voting region, New Democracy’s main task in the second vote will be ensuring that the party’s supporters do not become complacent and still turn out in high enough numbers to give the centre-right party a big majority, even though the winning party will be awarded a 50-seat bonus that was not available on Sunday.

If Sunday’s results, which meant that just five (as opposed to the previous six) parties elected MPs, were replicated in the second election, New Democracy would be looking at a majority of around 20 seats. This would be more than double the majority Mitsotakis had over the last four years and would give him great flexibility in governing the country.

The turnout on Sunday was actually slightly higher than four years ago, with 6.05 million Greeks voting compared to 5.77 million in 2019. Nevertheless, the participation of around 60 pct remains historically low for Greek elections, although the turnout has been falling over the last couple of decades.

The other factor that Mitsotakis will have to consider is the possibility that more than five parties make it into Parliament in the second elections. Three parties – ultra-conservative religious right Niki, and radical left Sailing for Freedom (Plefsi Eleftherias) and MeRA25 – all fell less than half a point short of the 3 pct threshold for electing MPs.

Should one or more of these parties make it over the 3 pct mark, it will push up the threshold needed for New Democracy to gain a majority and could lead to Mitsotakis ending up with a slimmer advantage than he currently has.

SYRIZA headaches

However, most of the headaches following the May 21 result will be felt in the SYRIZA camp after the left-wing party underperformed its 2019 result and opinion polls by around 10 points.

Exit polls suggest that SYRIZA even failed to dominate in the youngest age group, in which it was the leading party during previous elections. New Democracy is estimated to have won 31.5 pct of the 17-24 vote, compared to 28.8 pct for SYRIZA, underlining the extent of the drubbing the opposition party has suffered.

Apart from raising serious doubts about whether Alexis Tsipras will be able to continue as opposition leader, the result also suggests that SYRIZA time as the main opposition party may come to an end. The left-wing party’s share of the vote has been declining since 2015 but Sunday’s result is made worse for SYRIZA by the fact that PASOK appears to be on the rise.

The centre-left party gained almost 11.5 pct of the vote on Sunday, which was around 3.5 points more than in 2019 and its highest electoral score for more than a decade. This represents an affirmation of the party’s renewal efforts under Androulakis but also suggests that centre-left voters who may have backed SYRIZA in the past feel that they can return to what feels to them like a more natural political home.

In his speech on Sunday night, Androulakis indicated that PASOK should now aim to overtake SYRIZA as the second largest party. This might not be possible in the few weeks that are left until the second election but even that cannot be considered out of the question, especially if SYRIZA’s poor showing leads to introspection and infighting within the left-wing party.

It is unlikely that SYRIZA has time to replace Tsipras before the next election. Any leadership contest will probably come after the second vote and could define whether the party survives as a potential challenger for power or whether it returns to being a small party of protest.

Tsipras gave no indication in his concession speech on Sunday that he is preparing to step aside imminently, but he did suggest that there would be an immediate internal inquiry into his party’s collapse.

In the search of the reasons behind Sunday’s crushing defeat, SYRIZA would do well to examine whether its tone and direction is in keeping with what much of the Greek public wants. The indication in opinion polls before this election, but also in Sunday’s results is that most Greek voters have moved on over the last few years, leaving the crisis behind and seeking a sense of normality.

They appear to appreciate the fact that the economy is recovering, even though many will not have felt the benefits of this, and believe that keeping Mitsotakis in power would provide a greater guarantee of this recovery continuing, potentially delivering benefits for all in the future. The flipside of this is that voters do not feel confident that SYRIZA can handle the economy with competence. Questions over the cost of SYRIZA’s economic programme and last-minute confusion over the party’s plans for social security contributions for the self-employed compounded these concerns.

Similarly, voters also seem to have rejected SYRIZA’s aggressive style and negative campaigning – something that has remained with the party since it was formed as a coalition of disparate radical left groupings – in favour of a more moderate type of politics. It will not have been lost on SYRIZA officials that PASOK was able to increase its share of the vote while adopting a more constructive, less adversarial approach to being in opposition.

SYRIZA also appears to have committed a major strategic error with regards to the electoral system. Having adopted proportional representation when in power in 2016, SYRIZA has done next to nothing to reach any kind of consensus with other parties of the left that might have provided some kind of basis for a coalition after this election.

Voters went into polling stations on Sunday without any clear idea of what a “progressive coalition” would look like, nor what its main policies would be. In fact, Tsipras, Androulakis and MeRA25 leader Yanis Varoufakis spent the final days leading up to May 21 stating publicly why they could not work with each other, thereby providing little confidence in their ability to govern together. As a result, anything SYRIZA said about a potential coalition seemed little more than an opportunistic attempt to return to power for its own reasons rather than because it would be in the country’s interests.

The coming weeks could provide further clarity on whether this election has delivered a fatal blow to SYRIZA or if the leftists can recover over the longer-term, under new leadership.

In the meantime, Mitsotakis will try to guide his party to an equally convincing win in the second elections, leaving his rivals to lick their wound over the next four years.