Electioneering lulls Greco-Turkish relations

Electioneering lulls Greco-Turkish relations

According to the original plan, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should have visited Istanbul after his visit to Moscow at the end of last week, responding to an invitation by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Both leaders had met back in September on the sidelines of the 73rd U.N. General Assembly. We were told then that there was enough time for the necessary preparations in order to fit the trip around now, after the Moscow visit. Yet, for reasons that obviously relate to the continuous tension between these two countries, the visit which was supposed to cover a long list of “positive steps” has been put to the back-burner for the moment. 

However, it is not only the temperature of the waters in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean that keeps the two leaders apart. They both have the test of elections ahead of them which is sapping most of their energy. For Erdoğan the local elections in March next year will be the first test after the implementation of the new presidential system he introduced last summer. And for Tsipras he will have to face a triple test of his government next year: Local and municipal elections, elections to the European Parliament and general elections.

And while for the case of Erdoğan, the results overall are more likely to confirm the dominance of his party and government, this cannot be said for the leftist Greek prime minister who will need to try hard to convince his people to elect him for the second time and to forgive him for his “ideological adjustment” from a “radical leftist” to something of a “social democrat” who now believes that sticking to the EU family is the only way to gradually solve his country’s economic problems.

Although the date for the local government elections and for the election of MEPs is fixed at the end of May next year, the exact date of the general elections in Greece is uncertain. As always, it remains at the discretion of the prime minister. When asked, Tsipras himself replies that his government will exhaust its term in office, implying that he may seek a mandate as late as in October next year. This sounds logical as sufficient time is needed for the people to see the positive impact of the relief measures his government has taken since Greece came off the last of three bail-out programs last August, following a decade of austerity.

With the opposition becoming louder and angrier, Tsipras has in the coming few months to both speed up the legislation and the implementation of a package to restore payments, bonuses, increase minimum payments and decrease taxes, in short, to do everything possible to “remedy the unfair measures” taken during the dark period of austerity. Realistically, he can do that up to a point without needing outside help, thanks to the surplus that the government amassed mainly because of over-taxation demanded by Greece’s creditors. The opposition calls this just a phony package of pre-election sweeteners which will last only until elections.

The first opinion polls, however, show that what matters most to the Greek voters is a government which helps them to improve their primary needs: Jobs, income and pensions.

In fighting the government, the main opposition party of conservative New Democracy, and to a large extent, other opposition parties, have placed major importance on “national issues,” like tension with Turkey, the preliminary agreement with North Macedonia to sort out the dispute with Greece over the name of this Balkan republic, and the plan of the Tsipras government for the “redefinition of the relations of Church and State.” All these issues have caused strong reaction among the society with mass anti-government rallies of angry crowds. However, whether these will eventually push voters to the opposition, that is not certain, analysts claim.

Everybody agrees that these coming general elections will be a tough battle for everyone. The party of New Democracy under Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with almost 85 percent allegiance and about 30 percent popularity is sure to win, but that is not enough for an ultimate majority. Syriza has a different problem: How to regain almost 50 percent of the electorate who voted for them back in 2015 hoping for an immediate end of their misery, as promised by Syriza but not delivered. Will Tsipras be able to convince this crucial mass of undecided or disgruntled followers to give him one more chance? In his party they say that the prime minister is their biggest asset, although some opinion polls show that a significant part of the people who say they will vote for the leftist Syriza is not because they agree with it but because they do not want to see the neo-liberals of New Democracy in power.