Parliamentary elections on May 21: Stability or more money? The Greeks have a choice

Parliamentary elections on May 21: Stability or more money?  The Greeks have a choice

The Conservatives have put Greece on the road to economic success over the past four years. But not all voters will thank the party in the upcoming elections.

Hard to believe, but true: after ten years of severe financial crisis, near bankruptcy and the threat of exiting the euro, as well as three years of the corona pandemic, Greece’s economy grew almost twice as fast as the European average in 2022. The business magazine “Economist” hailed a “European success story”, the “Financial Times” even wrote of “Europe’s growth tiger”.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Nea Dimokratia (ND) party, with which he has governed the country alone for four years, can be proud of what they have achieved. But although the ND, according to polls, is around 33 percent a good 7 percentage points ahead of the left-wing opposition party Syriza, a second term after the parliamentary elections this Sunday is far from assured.

Within the EU, Greece is still one of the countries where people are most at risk of falling into poverty. Only the people in Bulgaria and Romania are more at risk of poverty. This shows that the government’s measures have not yet reached the Greeks – even though they are significant.

Investments in digitization

Under Mitsotakis, unemployment fell from 18.9 percent to the current 10.9 percent. Pensions and the minimum wage have been raised, corporate taxes have been reduced from 29 to 22 percent, and the country’s enormous mountain of debt has been further reduced.

The government is also investing in the digitization of the country and the authorities – the Greeks can now have their driver’s license and identity card with them on their cell phones, register their car online, handle the sale of their property and even get a divorce. During Corona, Greece was the first EU country to introduce the digital vaccination certificate.

As a result, companies such as Microsoft, Google and Pfizer have discovered Greece as a location. International rating agencies are about to classify the country as “worth investing” again – but only if things continue as they have been.

Ex-Prime Minister Tsipras wants change

But going on like this is out of the question for the opposition. She promises change, above all the left-wing Syriza under party leader and ex-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Your election motto calls for a “treaty for the turning point” and “justice everywhere”. Tsipras criticizes Mitsotakis as a technocrat, yes, an autocrat who doesn’t care about the well-being of the people and announces that he wants to increase the minimum wage even more and raise wages in the public sector by 10 percent immediately when he comes to power. Pensioners should then also receive an additional pension payment per year, and Syriza also wants to raise pensions by 7.5 percent in the coming year.

Mitsotakis counters how Tsipras wants to pay for this and never tires of swearing people into “stability and continuity”. He wants to govern alone for another four years in order to continue on the course he has taken. “It’s perfectly clear that people aren’t yet feeling the long-term economic development in their wallets,” he says, pointing to the long road out of the financial crisis and the global wave of inflation since the beginning of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

Train accident with 57 dead still has an effect

Many voters recognize this, but there is also massive criticism on other points. For example, Mitsotakis is still dwelling on the wiretapping scandal last year, when it was revealed that the Greek intelligence service was wiretapping the cell phones of a number of politicians and journalists. Many people do not believe that the Prime Minister knew nothing about it, as he claims – after all, his nephew was the government’s chief of staff and responsible for the intelligence service.

The catastrophic train accident that killed 57 people in the central Greek municipality of Tempi last February is still having an impact because it revealed the serious failures of the state on the railways and the desolate condition of the rail network. Although the railway has been neglected by all Greek governments for decades, many see the responsibility with Mitsotakis and his team, after all, they have written progress on the flag.

However, a new government order for the conservatives is at risk primarily because of a kind of political land mine left in the wake of Tsipras’ predecessor. During his tenure, the electoral law was amended in 2018 and is now being applied for the first time. In the past, the strongest party was automatically given 50 seats in the 300-strong parliament after the election. This made it easier to form a government, but the smaller parties lost out and mostly one-party governments emerged. Tsipras pushed through the simple proportional representation – and now wants to bring about change with a centre-left coalition. According to surveys, Syriza itself is around 25 percent.

What will the future government look like?

However, over the past few decades Greece has rarely had any bad experiences with coalitions, and the choice of potential partners is not particularly lavish. The Greek Communist Party (KKE), around 6.3 percent according to polls, feels comfortable in its opposition role. At most, it comes into question insofar as it could tolerate a minority government – but the party leader has already ruled that out.

With poll numbers of around 9 percent, the socialist Pasok is more interesting as a partner for Syriza, but could ultimately also come to an agreement with the conservative ND. The right-wing populist Elliniki Lysi (Greek solution) does not work for Syriza for ideological reasons. And the left-wing party of the notorious former finance minister Giannis Varoufakis, Mera25, is likely to just manage the current 3 percent hurdle. She has also ruled out a coalition with Syriza so far – and Varoufakis is scaring many voters with the plan to introduce a parallel currency to the euro.

There are a number of scenarios for how things will continue after the election. The most likely is a second ballot in July – the worst a third in September, if two governments fail to form. But then the country runs the risk of losing the hard-won trust of the international political and economic world.

Source: Stern

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