ATHENS, Greece — Sunday’s Greek parliamentary election looks likely to be a dress rehearsal for a new round of voting in the busy summer tourist season — barring a surprise coalition deal by dissonant opposition parties.
Opinion polls indicate that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-right New Democracy could rake in about 35%, some 6 percentage points ahead of leftwing former prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party.
But ND still wouldn’t have enough to govern alone, and sharp divisions between the two main contenders and the four smaller parties forecast to enter parliament all but preclude a functioning coalition under either ND or Syriza.
A second election on July 2 seems likely. It would be held under a new electoral law giving the winner a boost of up to 50 of Parliament’s 300 seats, which the current system doesn’t.
With the economy rebounding after the 2009-2018 financial crisis, military tensions with neighboring Turkey — which nearly boiled over in 2020 — in abeyance and benefits blunting the cost-of-living crisis, no single issue dominated campaigning. Much of the discourse focused on potential coalition deals.
Here’s a glance at the main candidates:
A former banking executive, the 55-year-old Harvard graduate was born into a political dynasty that produced a former prime minister, a former foreign minister and the current Mayor of Athens. Mitsotakis has led New Democracy — Greece’s right-of-center pole for the past half century — since 2016, steering it closer to the political center with a pro-reform and pro-business agenda.
Elected prime minister in 2019, he has been credited with Greece’s successful handling of the pandemic and of two crises with neighboring Turkey, while overseeing high growth and job creation. But a wiretapping scandal and a railway disaster damaged his ratings. Nevertheless, Mitsotakis has argued against any post-electoral coalition deal, saying Greece needs a strong government to ensure stability and a return to investment grade for its bonds — ending the last salient reminder of the 2009-2018 financial crisis. Going to a second election would suit him due to the seat bonus, though he’s suggested that a third election might be on the cards, if needed.
A 48-year-old civil engineering graduate, Tsipras transformed former minnow Syriza into Greece’s dominant left-of-center grouping. He became prime minister amid the financial crisis in 2015 — in a surprise coalition with a populist rightwing party — promising to end deep spending cuts. Instead, he oversaw a painful new bailout deal. His second term, from 2015-2019, saw rapprochement with bailout lenders and a historic agreement to normalize ties with neighboring North Macedonia. He’s pledging to reverse some previous reforms, expand welfare and legalize same-sex marriage.
Trailing ND in the polls, Tsipras may see Sunday’s vote as his best shot at forming a governing coalition with at least two other opposition parties. That’s because the new electoral system in July, with the winner’s bonus, would leave the runner-up in a weaker position. His broad appeals for a “progressive” alliance have so far been rebuffed.
Androulakis, 44, heads the remnants of Greece’s formerly dominant Pasok socialist party, which was superseded by Syriza during the financial crisis. Polling at around 10%, Pasok would be vital in any coalition deal. Androulakis’ poor relationship with Mitsotakis — whom he accuses of covering up the wiretapping scandal which targeted Androulakis himself, among others — render a deal with ND unlikely. But he’s on bad terms with Tsipras too, accusing him of trying to poach Pasok voters.
The 67-year-old heads the Greek Communist Party, or KKE, a Stalinist-rooted enclave in Greek politics whose core support amounted to a steady 4.5-5.5% over the past decade. Koutsoumbas has shown zero inclination to form an alliance with Communist-rooted Syriza, or even help it form a minority government.
Tsipras’ flamboyant finance minister during the 2015 standoff with Greece’s bailout creditors, Varoufakis resigned after Tsipras backed a new bailout deal — ignoring a referendum in which most Greeks voted to reject it. Varoufakis, 62, founded his leftwing European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25) party in 2018 and entered parliament a year later. Polling at just over the parliamentary entry threshold of 3%, he’s a potential coalition partner for Syriza despite the 2015 rift — although his renewed calls for a confrontation with bailout lenders might prove too rich for Tsipras.
Velopoulos, 57, heads the rightwing Elliniki Lysi (Greek Solution) which elected 10 lawmakers in 2019 and looks set to re-enter parliament. His party advocates stopping asylum seekers at the border and forcibly returning them to Turkey, while dumping those who slip the net in reception facilities on uninhabited islets.
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