New Greek rulers inherit €335 billion debt
Greece's new conservative prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in Monday. His New Democracy party won a massive victory during yesterday’s general elections putting an end to the rule of left-wing Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras.
“The elections symbolise a political change,” says mayor of Samos and ranking New Democracy (ND) member Angelis Angelopoulos. “The new Prime Minister is a convinced pro-European so he will create added value for our county. It is a vast majority with 158 parliamentary seats. I think that it was a very positive result.”
Syriza's parliamentary presence will shrink from 144 seats to 86. Tsipras has promised to remain an "active" voice in opposition.
Sunday's election was Greece's third in as many months.
In May, ND beat Syriza by nearly 9.5 points in European parliamentary elections. A week later, it completed a near-sweep of Greek regions in local elections. After that, Tsipras was forced to call an early general election.
"A painful cycle has closed," Mitsotakis said in a televised address immediately following his electoral victory, adding that Greece would "proudly raise its head again" during his tenure.
Entering parliament for the first time are Greek Solution, a nationalist party formed by TV salesman Kyriakos Velopoulos, and MeRA25, ("European Realistic Disobedience Front") an anti-austerity party founded by maverick economist and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Defeat for the extreme right
Meanwhile, Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) was shut out of parliament for the first time since 2012.
Golden Dawn, until recently Greece's third-ranking party, is in steep decline amid an ongoing trial for the 2013 murder of an anti-fascist rapper, allegedly carried out with the knowledge of senior Golden Dawn members.
Golden Dawn’s main campaign points were to close borders to foreigners, send refugees back to their place of origin and leave the EU, the “Grexit” slogan preceding “Brexit” by several years.
More than 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Greece in 2015 and early 2016, most of them coming by sea and reaching the Greek islands in the Mediterranean.
By excluding Golden Dawn from parliament, Greek voters indicated that the country doesn’t want to reject the refugees. But the massive influx took a toll on the economy, especially of the islands.
Influx of immigrants
Samos mayor Angelopoulos met with Mitsotakis last week when the Prime Minister-to-be visited the island during his election campaign.
Samos, near the Turkish coastline, is one of Greece’s outlying islands that faced a major influx of immigrants.
“His policy on the migration issue gives a road map that includes the security of the border, special care for abandoned or unaccompanied children.
“It gives a thorough concern to the congestion of the islands. And I think that the facility concerning the so-called 'hotspots' where refugees and migrants could stay will be better and more appropriate and will correspond to humanitarian principles."
The New Democracy party won 158 seats in the 300 seat parliament and now commands an absolute majority. “ND will be able to form a one-party government,” says Charnanbos Thardanibis, the director of the Greece Institute for International Economic Relations. “This means that it would be much easier to govern and to implement its program.”
But he also points out that left-wing Syriza “consolidated its power in the left,” winning in the poor neighborhoods of southern Athens. “It means that Syriza did not disappear from the political scene but that it will be able to be a very powerful opposition."
But why is ND now back while it was the party that was initially responsible for the implementation of wide-ranging austerity programs to satisfy the “Troika” (European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund)? Austerity led to massive protests and, in 2015, the end of ND’s coalition government.
According to Thardanibis, ND “was always a party of the conservatives,” and kept a core of loyal supporters throughout the Tsipras years.
“It then managed to get votes from other parties, including Syriza and (socialist party) Pasok, which also managed an austerity program during the last four and a half years.
Apart from that, Syriza, and Tsipras, were blamed for Greece making a deal with Northern Macedonia, ending a decade-old struggle about the name of this new country, which, claim Greek inhabitants of Greece’s Macedonia province in the country’s north, is unacceptable plagiarism – Syriza lost lots of support in the north as a result.
ND now faces the daunting task of decreasing the country’s €335 billion debt, while keeping the population happy by not tightening the belt too much.