For a country that has gone through as much political and economic turmoil as Greece had to endure during a decade of financial crisis, the results of the May 21 parliamentary election came as a surprise. No pollster or political analyst expected such a comfortable lead as that achieved by the ruling New Democracy Party under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
With 40% of the vote (and 20 percentage points above Syriza, the left-wing party of former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in second place), the performance of the New Democracy Party was higher than when Mitsotakis was first elected to power in 2019. In fact, it is the best Greek government in place for half a century. The impressive victory is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the Greek prime minister, who went to the polls to seek a second term to complete his pro-business agenda.
But while it says a lot about how Greek voters assess his first term, this result says a lot about the state of the opposition, especially Syriza, which has failed to convince voters that it had a compelling government proposal and refused to drop its populist rhetoric.
Given a new electoral law of proportional representation, New Democracy was still a few seats away from forming a majority government. Thus, Mitsotakis has called a runoff election as early as June 25, to be held under a different electoral law that may well propel New Democracy to a majority, given the bonus of up to fifty seats that it grants to the first. party place. As for the possibility of Mitsotakis forming a coalition government, the lack of appetite or scope for such cooperation all but rules it out.
(Greece’s) strategic orientation is not in question in these elections, as all major parties support Greece’s defense cooperation with the United States and are committed to the eurozone.
Unlike the years of financial crisis, these elections in Greece did not attract much international attention. The fact that no government has been formed has not rattled markets or raised geopolitical concerns. On the contrary, the Greek scholarship rallied to the news on Monday.
This is partly because Greece’s strategic orientation is not in question in these elections, since all major parties support Greece’s defense cooperation with the United States and are committed to the euro area. This is also true in foreign policy, where they agree on the strategic priorities of a country anchored to the West and playing a stabilizing role in the wider region. As US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller congratulated the Greek people on the elections ahead of the second round, he noted that “The bilateral relationship between the United States and Greece enjoys strong support from political parties in the United States and Greece. It has been strengthened over the years of cooperation between several administrations and governments of the two countries.
That said, New Democracy is working to further deepen the strategic partnership between the United States and Greece, including on defense, and to continue to support Ukraine by providing military assistance and implementing sanctions against Russia. Greece under Mitsotakis also won influence within the European Union (EU) on issues such as energy transition and energy security, which may continue as Greece aims to triple its regasification capacity (conversion of liquefied natural gas into gas) this year. Greece should also continue to exercise strict control over its borders. And despite rocky relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (who also appears set for re-election on May 28) Mitsotakis is open to a rapprochement, if only to avoid a repeat of recent tensions.
Yet the main focus of a second New Democracy term would be the economy. The May 21 election was the first in Greece after post-bailout surveillance ended. Under Mitsotakis, Greece recorded one of the fastest economic growth rates in the eurozone in 2022, at 5.9 percentand he promises to promote reforms that will further increase foreign direct investment and improve Greek competitiveness, while making good use of the 30.5 billion euros Greece is set to receive from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility .
But as the Financial Time note: “Greece’s economic recovery is still a work in progress. Despite a significant improvement, the consequences of the debt crisis are still evident in gross domestic product (GDP) and unemployment figures, with New Democracy vowing to continue raising wages and pensions to deal with the crisis of the cost of living. And Greece has pledged to achieve a primary surplus of 2% of GDP per year, which could prove difficult to achieve if public spending exceeds government projections in a context of higher inflation.
Indeed, the Greek prime minister has advanced an economic reason for calling the election a few months earlier: regaining the investment-grade credit rating that the country lost during its debt crisis, seen as a prerequisite for sustainably increasing growth and managing debt. While S&P Global Ratings has changed its outlook for Greece from neutral to positive last month, it signaled that the move to investment grade could be a few months away. But the rating agency also stressed that this depended on maintaining political stability. And as the Governor of the Bank of Greece warned, there is no budget margin in Greece for all the electoral promises of the political parties.
But even if the prospect of another debt crisis does not seem imminent, the New Democracy government has withstood more immediate challenges on the way to its electoral triumph. These include the 2020 Evros border crisis—in which thousands of migrants and asylum seekers attempted to violate the right Greece-Türkiye border with the encouragement of the Turkish government – as well as the devastating effects of the pandemic, the heightened tensions with Turkey and the cost of the energy crisis for Greek households and the economy.
So, despite the tragic loss of human life in a train wreck in March that exposed the inefficiencies that still plague the Greek public sector, or a wiretapping scandal What challenged the Prime Minister’s office last year was the quest for stability and the promise of a more effective and bolder government that gave New Democracy its impressive lead. Now Mitsotakis is betting that will be confirmed in the second round.
Katerina Sokou is a non-resident senior fellow at the Europe Center of the Atlantic Council, Theodore Couloumbis researcher on Greek-American relations at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy and Washington DC correspondent for the Greek daily. Kathimeriniwhere she is also a columnist.