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Mon 16 September 2019
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As an era of left-wing government under Alexis Tsipras closes in Greece, can the conservative right party New Democracy renew the country’s social cohesion, kick-start the economy and turn the page on years of austerity?

It was foreseen, but the defeat of Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza n Greece is severe.

The party has lost 59 MPs in the parliamentary elections on 7 July, while the conservative New Democracy secured an overall majority with 158 MPs in the Vouli, the Greek Parliament.

Greece is opening a new page of its political history, but will this be a time for renewal or a return to the old politics?

Mr Tsipras was first elected in 2015, vowing to refuse austerity and fight the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) ‘diktat’ to save the country’s public finances and economic situation.

In the end, he was defeated. The European Union imposed on Greece neoliberal policies of privatisation, cuts in social spending and in taxes. More importantly, Brussels dismissed the result of the Greek referendum, held in June 2015, on whether the country should accept the bailout conditions proposed to it by the EU in the country’s government-debt crisis proposed jointly by the Troika, leaving a painful mark on the birthplace of democracy – and helping to build ground for Euroscepticism across the continent.

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The result of the policies decided by Brussels was lukewarm, with unemployment indeed decreasing – but at the cost of lower wages and fewer social protections. As a result, Greece’s living standards decreased and the country dropped on this measure to the bottom of developed countries. Public finances have been restored, but European bankers insist that Greece’s debt (176% of its GDP) must be reimbursed – whatever the price.

In such circumstances, Tsipras’ defeat is not really surprising. Greeks are exhausted by years of austerity and, while New Democracy is unlikely to perform better, the desire for fresh leadership and a change was important.

New Democracy, the country’s oldest party – founded in 1974, after the fall of the military junta – is as divided as Syriza. If the new Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is a moderate and has tried to give the party a modern and liberal facade, its backstage is less shiny. The party’s right-wing, nationalist and ultra-liberal wing has controlled the party for many years. Although ceding ground to the pro-EU and liberal wing after the party’s astonishing defeat in 2015, it remains powerful and influential. 

Tsipras’ defeat is not really surprising. Greeks are exhausted by years of austerity.

It is likely that Mr Mitsotakis will have to cooperate with this wing, led for a long time by former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Although an agreement has been found with Macedonia, which has been renamed North Macedonia in exchange for Greek support on a potential EU membership, Skopje must be worried about who will take over the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in the coming weeks.

Greece is opening a new page of its political history, but will this be a time for renewal or a return to the old politics – which Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ father, himself Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis of Greece between 1990 and 1993 – was so used to?

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