Greek general election countdown
When Alexis Tsipras visited Istanbul in February, he was surprised to observe his popularity among the Turkish public. I heard him say it with my ears.
Concluding his busy two-day visit to Turkey, which included a face-to-face meeting and joint press conference with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, then a much publicized and well-attended visit to the Halki Seminary, a visit to Hagia Sophia and Dolmabahçe Palace, Tsipras rounded up his trip to Turkey by visiting Şişmanoğlu Cultural Center. This is a majestic neoclassical cultural hub on İstiklal Avenue in the center of Istanbul. He was to meet with the representatives of the Greeks of Istanbul. But his entry was literally blocked by an enthusiastic crowd of mainly Turkish admirers who were pushing each other to get a selfie with him, to which he patiently consented. “We did not know that the Turks love us so much,” he told us when he eventually managed to get into the building.
Later on, this year, he paid several more official visits to the Balkan countries where he was met with similar affection by local crowds. And then, conducting a busy campaign at home for the May 26 local and European Parliament elections, he seemed also sure that his popularity remained unchanged as he toured around Greece speaking to crowds of his followers.
Until very recently, Tsipras’ popularity has never been challenged. Just weeks ago, the results of a comprehensive poll by a reliable social research Company, on social and political trends in the southeastern Mediterranean and Balkan region, showed that Tsipras was the most popular political leader among 12 countries in the area after Russian leader Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (followed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Erdoğan and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker) and the second most popular leader from among eight Balkan countries after Putin and above Merkel. His popularity in Turkey was almost split in the middle, 47 positive and 43 negative views.
But perhaps the most noteworthy figure in that SE Med & Balkan Monitor was the Greek prime minister’s popularity in his own country where things were not looking so good. There, Tsipras had 33 positive points against 65 negative.
It seems that the results of that research came out too close to the date of the European elections so when the results started coming out late last Sunday, Tsipras and his leftist party received a nasty surprise. They had to face up with a devastating defeat losing about 9.5 percent of their votes against their main rival, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the liberal-conservative party of New Democracy. It was an unforeseen eventuality for the members of the Syriza. More than four years ago, their party had swept the polls in two consecutive general elections wherein the latter one, in September 2015, it had scored 36.3 percent against a 27.8 percent of New Democracy.
It is perhaps unorthodox to compare general elections with European elections, but Sunday’s European parliamentary poll in Greece turned out to be not at all about Europe but about who is going to be the next prime minister of Greece.
The results showed a massive swing of the vote, giving 33.11 percent to New Democracy and just 23.78 percent to Syriza. Having not much of choice — as the general elections are due any time this year until October — Tsipras announced that he would ask for a snap poll which will most likely be set for July 7.
What went wrong? How did Tsipras lose his charm among the Greek public? Did he lose his touch with the people and encircled himself in a glass tower listening only to a filtered version of reality, as his critics claim? Did he select and trust the wrong advisers? Did his government deliver what they promised or did they not communicate their recovery program properly?
The party and the government have now embarked on a soul-searching operation trying to identify their mistakes. It is very doubtful whether they will be able to find the answers and more importantly, to apply quick solutions. Time is short, very short of reversing the mood. Worse than that, after a decade of economic ordeal people would instead run after the politicians who promise them “low taxes, growth and jobs” rather than “free medical care, public education and subsidies for the needier.”
During the next one month or so, we will be watching a tough political struggle of a government — the first leftist government in Greece — trying to reverse a very negative trend and a self-confident conservative opposition waiting impatiently to take over the reins.