May 21, 2023 at 1:20 PM
In Greece, people can go to the polls today. The elections will determine who will rule the country for the next four years. The main candidates are the current governing party Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) and Syriza. Raging inflation, a wiretapping scandal and the February train disaster dominated the election campaign.
Neo Dimokratia, led by incumbent Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is currently leading the exit polls. The party would have 31 to 38 percent of the vote. Opposition leader Syriza is about 4 to 7 percentage points behind the ruling party.
The winner of the election will most likely need about 45 percent of the vote for an absolute majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament. With both Neo Dimokratia and Syriza looking unable to make it today, a second round of elections is likely to take place in early July.
A new election law will make it a lot more difficult to get an absolute majority. The new rules divide the seats evenly, while in the previous elections the largest party received a bonus of fifty seats. As a result, the winning party could often rule alone.
Incumbent government plagued by scandals
Today’s elections are mainly about the still fragile economy and rising costs due to inflation that are driving Greeks to despair.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis profiled himself in 2019 as a beacon of peace after years of chaotic and, above all, unstable governments. His centre-right party, Neo Dimokratia, won a clear victory over Syriza, a collective of several left-wing parties. Mitsotakis’ victory was also regarded as a huge relief in Brussels.
But in the run-up to today’s election, Mitsotakis had to take several blows that tarnished his party’s reputation. Neo Dimokratia suffered severely from a scandal in which Greek politicians, journalists and businessmen were wiretapped with illegal spy software.
In addition, Neo Dimokratia is still struggling seriously with the raging inflation and the growing dissatisfaction with it among the Greek population. The way in which the government handled the train disaster (57 deaths) in February is also the target of strong criticism.
Syriza struggles with the past
So will the opposition take over from Neo Dimokratia today? Syriza, Mitsotakis’ main challenger, is also still struggling with reputational damage.
The party, led by Alexis Tsipras, came to power in 2015, when Greece was hit hard by the financial crisis. Tsipras is dragging the baggage of that tumultuous period of government into these elections and does not yet seem to be able to convince the Greek voter.
Syriza focused on strengthening public services, such as education and health care, during the campaign. Above all, Neo Dimokratia promises to finish what the party started in 2019: a recovery of the economy led by investment and privatization.
Today’s elections come at an important time. Greece has taken important steps in the right direction since it was on the brink of financial ruin in 2015. There is absolutely no question of a Grexit and the Greek economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe.
At the same time, the Greek rule of law remains fragile, poverty remains a major problem and the government continues to struggle with large-scale tax evasion. It is up to the new government to deal with these problems.
The polls close today at 7 p.m. Dutch time.