Parliament: Bitter struggle for direction in Greek elections

Parliament: Bitter struggle for direction in Greek elections

A conservative government that consistently focuses the country on the economy? Or a generous welfare state where it is not clear how it is to be financed? Today the Greeks have a choice.

In today’s parliamentary elections in Greece, the Greeks will decide which course their country should take. The camps could not be more different.

On the one hand there is the still incumbent Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with his conservative party Nea Dimokratia (ND). He promotes stability, tax relief and investments. On the other hand, the left-wing Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, is calling for a massive expansion of the welfare state.

“We put into practice what we promised four years ago,” emphasized Mitsotakis during the election campaign, referring to his government’s successes. The authorities have been consistently streamlined and digitized. The Conservatives managed to lower taxes and duties and still reduce the huge mountain of debt that the country had accumulated and which had led to the severe financial and euro crisis in the past decade. Greece’s creditworthiness rose in international rankings and unemployment fell from almost 19 to around 11 percent. At the same time, the minimum wage and pensions were increased for the first time in years.

Left Party promises change of direction

The left-wing party Syriza denounces the government’s “heartless liberalism” and promises a complete change of direction. She wants a new welfare state and has met with approval. After the years of the financial crisis and the corona pandemic, Greece is still one of the poorest countries in Europe.

“We will immediately raise the minimum wage to 880 euros and introduce automatic annual inflation adjustment for all wages,” promises Syriza boss Alexis Tsipras. According to his will, the pensions are to increase by 7.5 percent, and a 13th monthly pension is to be paid annually in the future. He and his party did not explain how these and many other state investments were to be financed.

In polls, Syriza is around 28 percent a good seven percentage points behind the conservatives. Despite the comfortable lead of New Dimokratia, a rapid formation of a government is not to be expected. This is due to a change in electoral law that Tsipras made when he was in government (2015 to 2019).

Coalitions have little tradition

Previously, the strongest party automatically received 50 seats in the 300-member parliament after the election. This made it easier to form a government. However, the smaller parties were left behind and mostly one-party governments emerged. The New Dimokratia has also ruled alone for the past four years. Tsipras changed the law to simple proportional representation and abolished the 50-seat bonus. Mathematically, a government can only be formed by those who get at least 48 percent. But neither of the two major parties is likely to succeed.

Instead, there will be exploratory talks for possible alliances. However, coalitions have little tradition in Greece. If they existed, they were usually not crowned with success. In addition, the third largest party, the social democratic Pasok (according to polls with around nine percent of the votes), has so far ruled out a coalition with one of the two major parties.

If the government is not formed within ten days of the election, a new election must be held. This could take place in early July. Then there is another Greek peculiarity: the strongest party gets 20 seats in parliament. If the Conservatives get around 37 percent of the votes, they could govern alone again.

Source: Stern

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