ND landslide reverberates across Greek political landscape
Sunday’s landslide election victory for New Democracy has shaken up Greece’s political landscape and the main opposition party, SYRIZA, finds itself in a potential fight for survival before the second vote is held on June 25.
Although Kyriakos Mitsotakis had been expected to lead his centre-right party to a win on May 21, the gap of almost 21 points over second-placed SYRIZA came as a surprise to all observers and participants. The left-wing party’s support plummeted to 20 pct, 11 points lower than in 2019 and some 10 points lower than many opinion polls had indicated.
The result means that virtually the only thing standing between Mitsotakis and a clear majority in the next elections, where the winning party will claim a bonus of up to 50 seats, is complacency. SYRIZA, meanwhile, faces a period of introspection followed closely by an effort to re-order itself and run a campaign that will at least make sure the leftists hold on to second place, which is being coveted by centre-left PASOK after it managed to increase its share of the vote compared to four years ago.
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.
The two other parties that gained seats in what will be a short-lived Parliament, were the Communist Party (KKE) with 7.23 pct and ultra-nationalist Greek Solution with 4.45 pct. 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 in the second election, 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 looks to be on course to gain.
In his first interview on Greek TV following Sunday’s elections, leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on voters to come to the polls a second time to confirm their mandate. “The ballot box starts empty”, he said, adding that if the public wanted him to continue in his position they would need to come out and vote. Mitsotakis’s challenge is to stem the temptation among some sections of ND voters to opt for one of the smaller right-wing parties, while others who backed the conservatives in the first vote but position themselves more on the centre-left of the political spectrum may be tempted to back PASOK to help it overtake SYRIZA.
Undoubtedly, the size and nature of Sunday’s defeat means that the left-wing opposition party is attracting most attention, but also faces the greatest difficult in picking itself up and running a convincing campaign for the next vote.
SYRIZA lost around 600,000 voters compared to 2019 and an inquest is underway within the left-wing party about the causes of such a heavy defeat. There is little time for the leftists to make any major changes before June 25, but it is clear that they will need to adjust their message and approach if they want to avoid risking a complete wipeout.
SYRIZA’s main competitor in the next elections will undoubtedly be PASOK, whose recovery is largely based on attracting voters from SYRIZA. SYRIZA’s aim will be to present a potential rebound by the socialists as a reversion to the two-party establishment, while suggesting that their more moderate form of opposition masks a collusion with New Democracy on key policy areas like constitutional reform.
Sunday’s exit polls confirm that the ND vote outperformed in just about every significant voter segment. Among occupational groups, 29.1 percent of private sector employees voted SYRIZA compared to 27.8 percent for ND, however they were the exception. Among farmers, ND got 47.5 percent of the vote, as well as 33.4 percent of the unemployed.
One of the most telling results was that 54 percent of self-employed voters opted for the conservatives, compared to 17.3 percent for SYRIZA. That is a significantly wider margin than that recorded by opinion polls just a week earlier and in previous contests, suggesting that voters were swayed by the suggestion in an interview by SYRIZA’s former labour minister that the party intended to reverse ND’s reforms to social security, potentially leading to higher contributions.
This was one of several slip-ups made by SYRIZA candidates in the final week of campaigning which may well account for their under-performance on election day. According to the exit polls, almost a third of voters picked their party in the final week, while 18.5 percent decided on the day.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras confirmed that he will remain in his position, at least for the time being, and lead the effort to build up the party’s support for the second elections. What happens after that is an open question. Opinion seems to be divided within SYRIZA about whether Tsipras should stay on. On one hand he has become synonymous with the party’s rise from the fringes of Greek politics to the centre stage, but on the other, after June 25 he will have suffered three general election defeats and one loss in the 2019 European Parliament elections.
The first opinion poll carried out since the elections was published on Tuesday by Kapa Research. It suggested that 77 pct of SYRIZA voters believe that Tsipras should put his candidacy for the party leadership forward again, while only 14 pct believe that the process to elect a new leader should begin immediately.
In terms of the overall electorate, 46 pct believe SYRIZA should start looking for a new leader, while 33 pct think Tsipras should seek re-elections.
The survey indicated that the weakness of the opposition was one of the key reasons for New Democracy’s dominance on Sunday.
When respondents were asked to pick two reasons that they think handed ND victory, 43 pct chose the opposition’s weakness (the most popular answer), followed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis being a more capable PM than his rivals (35 pct), ND having some achievements to show during its four-year term (28 pct) and the conservatives having significant support form business and the media (26 pct).
With regard to the potential outcome of the next elections, Kapa Research sees ND’s support rising to 41.3 pct, up by half a point on its May 21 score, and SYRIZA falling to 19.5 pct, down by 0.6 points on Sunday. PASOK is seen rising by almost 3 points to 14.4 pct.
There is little change in the support for the Communist Party (KKE) and Greek Solution – the two other groupings that elected MPs on Sunday. However, support for ultra-conservative Niki and radical left Sailing for Freedom (Plefsi Eleftherias) is seen rising above the 3 pct threshold, to 3.5 and 3.9 pct respectively.