Greeks vote with a hole in memory - 6 July, 2019
Report on the Greek national elections of Sunday, 7 July, 2019
BY: JARL VAN DER PLOEG
Applause rises in the gym in North Athens because one head after the other of the carved election winner comes on stage. Voters wave goodbye to the candidates and give them hand kisses, as if they have completely forgotten that this party was still held responsible for the Greek crisis ten years ago.
Certainly for a country with such a long history as Greece, it is striking this election week how short the voters' memory seems to reach. Because tomorrow evening, when all votes are counted, it will most likely prove that the right-wing conservative party New Democracy (ND) is the big winner. In almost all polls, the party has an almost unbridgeable lead over Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's left-radical Syriza party.
That means that from Sunday evening, Greece is probably the first European country to return to the establishment after a populist wave. So no break with the past, but back to the past. Or more specifically: back to ND, the party that Greece most frequently ruled since 1974 and therefore was still largely responsible for the crisis ten years ago. After all, it was successive governments of ND and Pasok, that other important government party, who spent far too much money for years and steadily drove their country towards the financial abyss.
Moreover, that did not go unnoticed. In the 2007 elections, ND still received 41.8 percent of the votes. In the first elections after the crisis broke out, the party only had 18.9 percent left. Because three-quarters of voters indicated that their vote was mainly based on the economic situation, the picture was clear: ND was blamed for the financial misery.
The happiness of old politics
And yet, ten years later, the ND politicians are smiling on this stage in North Athens because they know for sure that they will win the elections this weekend. How is that possible? "Because, in spite of everything, New Democracy has been very lucky," says political science professor Yannis Tsirbas of the University of Athens. Although Pasok and ND alternated power for decades, it was actually a Pasok prime minister under whom the crisis really broke out. "That's why the majority of the blame ended up with Pasok," Tsirbas says. After all, that party lost 90 percent of its voters between 2009 and 2015.
In addition, a new enemy in the form of Syriza emerged in the intervening years, Tsirbas says. In 2015 it was just another protest party that was completely opposed to further spending cuts, but since Syriza has government responsibility and Prime Minister Tsipras could not accept another new aid program, that party is also fully associated with the crisis. "Add to that the fact that the electorate generally has a short memory and you understand why ND is now in the lead again in all polls," Tsirbas says.
"You are right to say that Pasok was punished the hardest for the crisis, and Syriza has done a lot of the dirty work in recent years and we are now benefiting from it," says former ND minister Theodoros Roussopoulos, who during the last government before the crisis broke out, was the Prime Minister's right-hand man and accused of a major corruption scandal in the intervening years, but whose name is now again high on the list. "Timing is important, certainly in politics."
And just as important: the promises that ND makes to the voters during this campaign. For example, taxes will be drastically reduced so that entrepreneurs can do business again. There will be more police on the street, just like a tougher attitude against refugees and the strict budget requirements from Brussels will be renegotiated.
"In 2010, voters were angry with politics in general - with all parties - now they are particularly angry with Syriza," says former minister Roussopoulos. "The voters see that Syriza has created a worse world than the world we left for them. They realize that it is better to go back to their roots; to us. After all these years full of false left promises, they are now coming back to reality. "
Whether that reality of ND also corresponds to the actual reality remains to be seen. Prime Minister Tsipras, for example, said that if ND were indeed to deliver on its promises, "a return to the dark days" of the troika would be possible. The promises are also viewed with suspicion abroad. Although Greece is obliged to have a budget surplus of at least 3.5 percent in the coming years, various estimates show that ND wants to spend at least 1.5 percentage points too much.
The brothers Georgios and Ioannis
Nonsense, the ND politicians shout from the podium in the gym in North Athens. "We just have to give an answer to Syriza, who caused this whole mess." Gerogios Kelgioris (65) applauds loudly. "I did not vote in the last few elections because I was disappointed in ND. The crisis was also their fault. But make no mistake, hey? That was all under Prime Minister Samaras. The current candidate Mitsotakis is someone else. Greece was doing well under his father, so I think he also deserves a chance. "
According to Kelgiorgis, anyone who does not deserve a new chance is Syriza. His company, which produces children's clothing, now has to pay 70 percent tax because of the tax increases under Prime Minister Tsipras, he says. "That almost ruined my company. I only now realize that ND is the only party that can help us with a free economy. Even China today has a free economy. We Greeks have to keep up with the times."
The meeting at which voter Kelgiorgis has joined, takes place in the Peristeri constituency in northern Athens; the area where the Syriza ruling party had to give in the most votes in the recent European elections, while ND achieved one of its biggest profits. Nearly 40 percent of the votes here went to ND at the end of May, compared to only 21 for Syriza. In the 2015 national elections, those percentages were the other way around.
This is partly due to the brothers Georgios and Ioannis Tziatzios (36 and 39). Both were willing to give Syriza a chance in 2015, but, they now admit, both tend to vote for the right-conservative ND on Sunday. "Every government has to do with a certain amount of wear," says Ioannis. "You can't keep all the promises you've made in the campaign, that's how it works. But Syriza has tackled so many things badly in four years. The situation with Turkey, for example, the refugee crisis, the name dispute with Macedonia. "
"And a lot went wrong at a smaller level," adds Georgios. 'I work in the public sector myself, so I have seen how even air conditioning systems have been cut away in hospitals. Isn't that crazy in a country where it can be 40 degrees in the summer? They have made so many mistakes. That is why I see a vote for ND not so much as a vote for ND, but mainly as a vote against Syriza. Unfortunately, there is no longer an alternative."
DESIGNATED NEW PREMIER
Kyriakos Mitsotakis (51) has been the leader of the largest opposition party in the Greek parliament, the right-conservative New Democracy (ND) since 2016. Pretty soon after taking office as party leader, ND took a considerable lead in the polls over Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing party Syriza. That lead was first cashed in at the European elections at the end of May, after which Mitsotakis immediately called for early elections. Mitsotakis lived outside of Greece for a long time. His family fled to Paris when he was six months old because of the military coup. He then studied at Harvard and Stanford, worked in London for Chase Bank and consulting firm McKinsey and returned to Greece in 1997, where he set up his own investment firm.
Mitsotakis is a descendant of a family of regents. His father Konstantinos was prime minister between 1990-1993, his sister Dora was foreign minister and his cousin Kostas has been mayor of Athens since last month.
Translated from: De Volkskrant newspaper, Amsterdam, 6 July, 2019
All the best,