Greece might go for snap elections two years earlier
Three days ago, the liberal-conservative government of New Democracy in Greece became two years old. Not new in power any longer, in fact, halfway before its term ends.
It has been a turbulent time for Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government. It had to confront the nightmare of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as many other governments in Europe, it took time to digest the seriousness of the problem and decide upon the right way to manage it. Delays, conflicting decisions, mistakes, backtracking or changing tracks, too often, and above all, doing anything to keep the economy on its feet. A mixture of trial and error with more errors.
But what was different with Mitsotakis’ government was that while it struggled against the pandemic it spared no time in going ahead with its election program of economic reforms, some of which were proven deeply unpopular. During a period when the Parliament under-functioned due to the long-term lockdowns, the government swiftly managed to push through major bills on privatizing high education, policing, labor, unions, minimum wage, pensions, non-performing private loans and privatizations, to name but a few. Greeks slowly realized that their economic and social environment started to change, and that the end of the pandemic would find them living in a country where many things that were considered public, were now private.
Interestingly, this year’s anniversary of the electoral victory of New Democracy party on July 9 over the leftist SYRIZA government was a low-key occasion. There were no major events planned and no major official speeches.
The country is now struggling with the mutations of COVID-19, and still trying by using “iron-fist” measures to hold back a frustrated public from breaking all rules of self-protection. A still high percentage of vaccination sceptics makes persuasion by experts a difficult task.
With more than 12,000 dead from the pandemic so far, Greek authorities are now rushing to accelerate the vaccination program forward to create a “wall of immunity.” All measures must be taken, not to lose this year’s tourism season. That would be a disaster for a country that counts tourism as its “heavy industry.” Unfortunately, the Delta mutation was also spotted in Greek tourist resorts, upsetting the government schedule for a wide normalization plan which would open the country back for business during July.
Having to deal with such a major health issue, proved a difficult test for the Mitsotakis government. This is a neo-liberal government with a hard-core program of market economy plan that is supposed to cure the mismanaged economy of its previous ills. The fight against the pandemic brought this government face to face with their biggest ideological challenge. It half-heartedly had to rely on a public health system which it ideologically had in mind to privatize.
Speaking on the two-year anniversary of Mitsotakis government, the government spokeswoman, Aristotelia Peloni, gave an upbeat picture of the situation.
“In these two years, the country faced serious external challenges, promoted bold progressive reforms, regained its credibility in Europe and the world, built strong strategic alliances, restored confidence in the prospects of the Greek economy and is ready for a dynamic leap and balanced development. During the same period, 193 laws were passed that introduced progressive, institutional and development reforms,” she said.
However, this is not the picture shared by the opposition parties, who are accusing the government of having as “its standard choice to support the high and powerful against the middle- and low-income citizens.”
But if the problem of how to reset the country and its economy is the problem of Mitsotakis, the opposition in Greece faces an even bigger challenge. Several ideologically similar parties fill a large part of the centre-left and left political spectrum, showing no intention to team up together. The once very popular SYRIZA has not managed to regain its political energy wasting time in internal fights although the leader, Alexis Tsipras, remains unchallenged so far.
Provided that relations with Turkey and the developments around Cyprus do not lead to another Turkey-Greece crisis this summer, an early election in Greece is likely. After all Mitsotakis appears to maintain his comfortable lead in all polls, and somehow, he has managed to maintain a modus vivendi with the Turks, albeit still fragile. September or October might be a possible date for balloting, they tell us from Athens.