Focus on coalition horse-trading as the Greek elections are unlikely to produce a strong winner
Athens, Greece — Greece’s parliamentary election on Sunday is likely to be a dress rehearsal for a new round of voting during the busy summer tourist season – barring a surprise coalition agreement between dissonant opposition parties.
Opinion polls show that the center-right New Democracy of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis can gain about 35%, about 6 percentage points ahead of the Syriza party of left-wing former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
But ND still wouldn’t be enough to govern on its own, and sharp divisions between the two main contenders and four smaller parties are predicted to keep it from entering parliament, but rule out a coalition under ND or Syriza.
A second election on July 2 seems likely. It would be held on the basis of the new election law, which could give the winner up to 50 of the 300 seats in the parliament, which the current system does not.
With an economy rebounding after the 2009-2018 financial crisis, military tensions with neighboring Turkey — which have almost boiled over in 2020 — and benefits easing the cost-of-living crisis, no single issue dominated the campaign. Much of the discourse focused on possible coalition arrangements.
Here’s a look at the main candidates:
The 55-year-old Harvard graduate, a former bank executive, was born into a political dynasty that has produced a former prime minister, a former foreign minister and the current mayor of Athens. Since 2016, Mitsotakis has led New Democracy – Greece’s center-right pole for the past half century – steering it closer to the political center with a reform and pro-business agenda.
The prime minister, elected in 2019, has been credited with successfully managing Greece’s pandemic and twin crises affecting neighboring Turkey while overseeing high growth and job creation. But a wiretapping scandal and a train disaster hurt its ratings. However, Mitsotakis has argued against any post-election coalition deal, saying Greece needs a strong government to ensure stability and investment-grade bonds, ending the last visible reminder of the 2009-2018 financial crisis. A second election would suit him because of the seat bonus, although he suggested a third could be considered if necessary.
Tsiprasz, a 48-year-old civil engineering graduate, transformed the former boyhood Syriza into Greece’s dominant left-wing group. He became prime minister in 2015 amid the financial crisis – in a surprise coalition with a populist right-wing party – promising to end deep spending cuts. Instead, he oversaw a painful new bailout. During his second term, from 2015 to 2019, a rapprochement was reached with bailout creditors and a historic agreement was reached to normalize relations with neighboring North Macedonia. He promises to reverse some past reforms, expand welfare and legalize same-sex marriage.
Lagging behind the ND in opinion polls, Tsipras may see Sunday’s vote as his best chance to form a government coalition with at least two other opposition parties. This is because the new election system in July would leave the runner-up in a weaker position with the winner’s premium. His broad calls for a “progressive” alliance have so far been rebuffed.
The 44-year-old Androulakis leads the remnants of Greece’s formerly dominant Pasok socialist party, which was replaced by Syriza during the financial crisis. At around 10% of the vote, Pasok would be vital in any coalition agreement. Androulakis’ poor relationship with Mitsotakis, whom he accuses of covering up the wiretapping scandal that targeted Androulaki himself, among others, makes a deal with ND unlikely. But he is also on bad terms with Tsipras, accusing him of trying to poach Pasok’s voters.
The 67-year-old heads the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), an enclave of Greek politics with Stalinist roots, whose core support has been stable at 4.5-5.5% over the past decade. Koutsoumbas has shown no inclination to form an alliance with the communist-rooted Syriza, or even to form a minority government.
Tsipras’ high-flying finance minister during the 2015 standoff with Greece’s bailout creditors, Varoufakis, resigned after Tsipras backed the new bailout — ignoring a referendum in which most Greeks voted against it. The 62-year-old Varoufakis founded his left-wing European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25) party in 2018, and entered parliament a year later. Polling above the 3% threshold to enter parliament, he could be a potential coalition partner for Syriza despite the 2015 split – although his recent calls for confrontation with bailout creditors may prove too rich for Tsipras.
Velopoulos, 57, heads the right-wing Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution), which elected 10 MPs in 2019 and looks set to re-enter parliament. His party calls for asylum seekers to be stopped at the border and forcibly returned to Turkey, while those who slip the net are thrown into reception facilities on uninhabited islands.