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Greece: Mitsotakis takes office after conservative landslide

Kaki Bali in Athens
June 27, 2023

Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been sworn in as prime minister for a second term after his New Democracy party won an absolute majority thanks to a new electoral system. Three far-right parties will be in the new parliament.

Leader of the conservative New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, attends the swearing-in ceremony to become the new Greek prime minister, Presidential Palace, Athens, Greece, June 26, 2023
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of Greece's center-right New Democracy (ND) party, was formally sworn in as prime minister on MondayImage: Louiza Vradi/REUTERS

Kyriakos Mitsotakis' electoral gamble paid off: After falling just short of being able to form a single-party government in last month's election, he sent voters back to the ballot box on Sunday.

His conservative New Democracy (ND) party won 40.79% of the vote in the first election on May 21. Just over a month later, on June 25, it consolidated its victory, winning 40.55% of the vote.

Thanks to the 50 bonus seats the party received according to the new electoral system in place for Sunday's election, it now has 158 seats and an absolute majority in the 300-seat Greek parliament, allowing it to govern alone.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis waves to his party's supporters during his last pre-election speech in Athens on June 23, 2023
Kyriakos Mitsotakis was the frontrunner going into Sunday's parliamentary election in Greece and went on to win a resounding victoryImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

After a night of celebrations, Mitsotakis was sworn in as Greece's prime minister on Monday and has already unveiled his new cabinet, which will "quickly push ahead with the major reforms that the country so urgently needs," as he told supporters after his resounding electoral victory on Sunday.

Pledges of reform and stability

After years of crises, Mitsotakis has promised the country's jaded voters stability and economic growth. He campaigned on a platform of raising wages and pensions, lowering taxes and reforming the public health care system and judiciary.

His new government now has to deliver. The biggest hurdles he will face along the way will be the weaknesses that have dogged the Greek state for years: mismanagement, nepotism and corruption — for which his party is at least partly responsible. Mitsotakis now has the mandate and four years to build what he has referred to as a "digital, efficient and friendly public service."

Major defeat for Syriza

Mitsotakis will not be held back in this endeavor by a strong parliamentary opposition: The left-wing Syriza of former PM Alexis Tsipras garnered only 17.8% of the vote in Sunday's election compared with 20% in May. Just four years ago, it stood at 31%.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis smiles as he is surrounded by supporters and journalists after his party's electoral victory, Athens, June 25, 2023
Kyriakos Mitsotakis celebrating his party's record success at the ballot box on SundayImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

In the coming months, Syriza — formerly a radical left-wing, but now largely pragmatic party — which steered the country through the darkest days of Greece's sovereign debt crisis, will be focusing more on itself than anything else. Syriza will have to reinvent itself if it means to survive as a party that is capable of governing.

Poor performance by the left

The social democrats of PASOK — once a major party in Greece — didn't pull off the major surprise they were hoping for. Although PASOK did manage to increase its share of the vote to 11.8%, meaning it remains the third-largest party in parliament, it didn't achieve its goal of overtaking Syriza.

The Communists (KKE) only managed to increase their result slightly to 7.6%.

When taken as a whole, the performance of the so-called "progressive forces" in Greece was the worst in 40 years. At just under 38%, the combined result of the three parties was less than what the conservative ND got on its own.

Greece swings to the right

Three small parties to the right of ND, on the other hand, were very successful. The Spartans (Spartiates), an extreme right-wing organization that has only been active in public for three weeks, catapulted itself into parliament with 4.7% of the vote.

Alexis Tsipras waves to supporters on the evening of the election, Athens, June 25, 2023
Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party suffered a stinging defeat in Sunday's electionImage: Michael Varaklas/AP Photo/picture alliance

This was only possible thanks to the help of Ilias Kasidiaris, a high-ranking member of the banned neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and leader of The Greeks party (Ethniko Komma Ellines), who is currently serving a prison sentence for running a criminal organization.

Kasidiaris was excluded from the election by the Supreme Court. Undeterred, he urged — or rather instructed — his supporters from behind bars to vote for the Spartans. As a result, 12 potential successors to Kasidiaris' neo-fascist party will sit in Greece's parliament.

Three far-right parties in parliament

Kyriakos Velopoulos' Greek Solution (Elliniki Lisi) garnered 4.5% of the vote. This xenophobic right-wing populist party has been in the Greek parliament since 2019 and has much in common with Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Ilias Kasidiaris
Ilias Kasidiaris, the former spokesman for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, waged an election campaign from behind prison barsImage: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP

Compared with the Spartans, however, Greek Solution looks almost moderate. This relatively pro-Russian party is particularly strong in northern Greece, where many still consider the Prespa Agreement, which was concluded with North Macedonia in 2018, putting an end to the dispute about the name of Greece's neighbor, to be "treason."

The Victory (Niki) party, which appeared almost out of the blue just a few months ago, got 3.7% of votes and 10 seats in the new parliament, making it just as strong as Greek Solution. Victory is a fundamentalist Christian party that is well disposed to the Greek Orthodox clergy and is just as xenophobic as the other two far-right parties.

Unprecedented success for the far-right

In short, three far-right parties have made it over the threshold into parliament with a combined vote of almost 15%. Never before — not even at the peak of the country's economic and financial crisis — has the far right been so strong in Greece.

Two polling officers empty a ballot box onto a table
The New Democracy party of PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis won an absolute majority in Sunday's election, the second in just over a monthImage: Petros Giannakouris/AP/picture alliance

Another party that has taken the 3% hurdle to enter parliament is the politically opaque Passage to Freedom (Plefsi Eleftherias) party of former parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou. It attracted votes from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Although the party is now represented in parliament after receiving 3.17% of the vote, it is completely unclear what Passage to Freedom stands for.

Following the European trend

The shift to the right, which has already been seen in other western and eastern European countries, has now been replicated in Greece. In the next four years, Prime Minister Mitsotakis will have to keep a close eye not on the left, but on the right — both inside and outside his party.

The temptation to continue restricting social and civil rights — in particular the rights of refugees and migrants — will be considerable. The election result has shown that neither the wiretap scandal nor the recent migrant ship tragedy off the coast of Pylos damaged Mitsotakis. These issues, which were key to his left wing opponents, didn't play any role in this election.

This article was adapted from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

A woman (Kaki Bali) with shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes stands in front of a bookcase and smiles into the camera
Kaki Bali DW correspondent in Athens