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General election sees Greece swing from left to right

  • 8 Jul 2019

Primer Minister Alexis Tsipras lost to the right-wing New Democracy party as the country continues to be mired in economic problems sparked by the global financial crisis.

Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis wins Greek elections ousting Alexis Tsipras ( AP )

Greece held its general election on Sunday which saw the left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lose to Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who captured more than 39 percent of the vote.

Mitsotakis, 51, a conservative of the right-wing party New Democracy party, swept The Coalition of the Radical Left - also known as Syriza - from power, with the sitting prime minister only capturing 31.53 percent of the vote.

The New Democracy party, once seen as corrupt and nepotistic and one of the parties that led Greece to financial ruin, has had a dramatic turnaround. Under the leadership of Mitsotakis the party has campaigned as Tsipras once did: as an outsider attempting to change the system.

So why did Tsipras’ Syriza party, which once captured the national imagination with its plan to challenge the political establishment through a radical reformist agenda, lose the election?

Economy

Greece is currently experiencing one of its worst and most prolonged economic crises, which began in 2009 after the global financial crisis swept much of the world.

According to the World Bank, in 2008 Greece’s GDP stood at $354 billion and by 2018 it dramatically declined to $218 billion. 

Tsipras was elected on a platform to tear up previous agreements with international lenders which included the IMF, World Bank and the EU, collectively known as the Troika.

The bailout agreements that had been struck caused significant pain for the Greeks, leading to high unemployment and the sale of state assets.

Tsipras made many promises to voters which he ultimately could not keep. Soon after entering power in 2015 and after tough negotiations with the Troika, Tsipras made a volte-face, signing up to a new round of austerity in what many of his supporters saw as a betrayal.

Since then, the Syriza party has declined in the polls. The newly-elected New Democracy party has consistently remained ahead in the polls over the last two years.

Mitsotakis has outlined tax cuts and a pro-jobs initiative to tackle Greece’s high unemployment rate, which has already declined from 28 percent in 2014 to 18 percent currently.

Macedonia

Another reason why Tsipras’ Syriza party lost was the unpopular deal struck with the recently renamed country of North Macedonia.

Greece and North Macedonia have had a long-running dispute over the name of the country to the north which wanted to be named Macedonia. Greece claimed that this implied territorial ambitions towards regions bordering North Macedonia.

Tsipras negotiated the Prespa Agreement with the government, which has seemingly resolved the naming dispute but with much lingering bitterness on the Greek side.

Mitsotakis, who is now Greece's new prime minister opposed the deal, viewing it as one concession too far and has vowed to block North Macedonia’s EU aspirations.

The new Greek prime minister picked up many nationalist votes from the regions bordering North Macedonia.

Out but not gone

Tsipras can claim that while he lost the election, with more than 31.5 percent of the vote his party earned a respectable showing ensuring that it continues as a viable political force.

The difficulties that have plagued the Greek economy in the past decade have not gone away. The country still has a massive debt burden of $366 billion which dwarfs its economy.

It means Greece’s economic woes are far from over and could yet consume this new government as it has many others. Syriza will now have an opportunity to regroup and learn from its mistakes. Its first ascent to power surprised everyone and also meant that the largely inexperienced party made many mistakes.

Now it could use the time as an opposition party to plan for power.

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