First impressions from the new government in Greece
It has been just over three weeks since the Conservatives of the New Democracy Party in Greece succeeded the leftist Syriza, yet Greeks are still trying to digest a power change which brings along a profound difference in political mentality and ideological perceptions.
New Democracy swept to power in an unusually swift way. It defeated the previous government of leftist Syriza in a well-planned campaign that covered the whole first half of this year. The first blow and shock to Syriza came with the European elections at the end of May when New Democracy jumped 9 percent ahead of Syriza, leaving Tsipras’s party behind with just 23.78 percent. The second even more significant blow came with the massive victory in local elections which became apparent during the second round a week later after the Euro elections when New Democracy “turned the country blue” – as the color that identifies the party’s emblem. It managed to win 12 of the country’s 13 regions and most of the municipalities including the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki. Things went even worse, when during a snap general election called by the former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on July 7, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the New Democracy Party, easily won the third round securing a government majority of eight deputies.
The new conservative government which already raises some eyebrows among commentators for its structure resembling more of a company and a prime minister acting more like a CEO includes 40 percent of non-elected technocrats, many coming from abroad. Around 40 percent had never had any involvement in politics, but several have impressive bios in academia, business and finance.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the head of a well-calibrated team, well prepared in advance with specific tasks to be carried out on time and productivity targets to be achieved. The new government is entirely self-confident after the party’s recent impressive electoral victories. And it is determined to press ahead quickly with a free-market liberal agenda where top priority targets are the security of citizens, economic growth, investments and “well-paid” new jobs in an environment of elasticated labor legislation.
“Our mission is to link wages to growth, so everyone has to share in prosperity,” Mitsotakis declared, but the opposition found a lot of unanswered questions in that statement. Critics also see obscurity and contradictions in a new pension and social security system which introduces private insurance into a new public/private scheme.
Of course, the most popular part of the new government’s agenda is a declared plan for tax cuts on business, income and property, all being previously a massive burden for people’s life during a decade of deep economic crisis.
As expected, Mitsotakis’ government went through a comfortable vote of confidence last Monday and immediately went on to push its first bills through the parliament. These bills are also an indication of the new political mentality: abolition of a 1982 law barring police from entering university campuses -which according to the government had become centers of lawlessness and violence and amendment of the penal code making a stricter cigarette ban.
There is a general feeling that things are moving too fast for people to digest what is happening. How will their life change, if it will change for the better? The fact that the new government consists of persons unknown to the general public even to the voters of New Democracy does not makes things easy. This is a new-style government introducing profound changes in a fast-track manner, and these changes are implemented by people who were not elected by the electorate. It is hard. Should they trust the prime minister that he chose the best team?
It is even harder for the opposition to lose when they were confident that they would win. They should find out what they did wrong. At the same time, they should organize their opposition narrative and retain a substantial 31 percent of votes they managed to maintain, in the last general elections. Alexis Tsipras was looking out of his place and lacking energy during the debate on the new government program. He will have to gather strength and force, perhaps extending his ideological base and inviting a more broadly defined leftist following. And he has to be patient as Mitsotakis seems to have been accepted favorably for the moment by a generally conservative Europe.
One word that I heard from an experienced newspaper editor that we should keep in mind: “It is all good and well organized with a Mitsotakis government,” he said, “but he should have in mind that he is not running a company but a society of people. Otherwise, he will fail.”