With only days left before Sunday’s national elections in Greece, the conservative New Democracy party looks likely to be the winner, ousting the first leftist government in Greek history that ruled for the past four and a half years.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power in January 2015 full of bold promises and a mandate to get Greeks out of the economic crisis and years of austerity, failed to deliver. He signed a bailout program that expires in 2060 and imposes harsh austerity measures equal to his predecessors.
Riding on the discontent of millions of Greeks, Tsipras’ SYRIZA first managed to be the victor in the May 2014 European Parliament and local government elections. Then he secured a fairly easy win in the January 2015 national polls.
And as history repeats itself, the same looks likely to happen again. But this time, with Syriza coming second and New Democracy leading. In the May 26 European Parliament and local government elections, the conservatives of Kyriakos Mitsotakis won with an impressive difference of 9.35 percentage points.
As July 7th approaches, opinion polls show that New Democracy maintains about the same lead over leftist SYRIZA. Some polls even show a double-digit difference between the two opponents.
Tsipras came to power with the confidence that his leftist policies will bring fresh air to Greek politics by demolishing the old political system of corruption, clientelism and nepotism. He pledged that he would help lower-income Greeks who were hit the hardest by the crisis. It wasn’t before long, though, that his austerity measures dictated by the third bailout program he signed, brought many more Greeks to the brink of poverty.
Indeed, the departing prime minister did a lot for the poor, by sliding in the policy of handouts. For instance, he gave free electricity to 300,000 households, driving the Public Power Corporation to the brink of bankruptcy with a 942 million euros debt in May 2019.
Then he gave allowances to lower-income Greeks, based on their tax statements, with the opposition accusing him of giving the dividends to tax evaders and not to those truly in need.
Tsipras’ economic policies overtaxed professionals and freelancers, in this way dealing a tremendous blow to the middle class, that is the backbone of every economy. At the same time, increases on VAT and excise taxes on many goods like telecommunication services, coffee, chocolate, beer and other goods raised the cost of living for the already burdened Greeks.
Syriza has not been friendly to investors. For example, it has put obstacles on major projects such as the development of the former Athens airport at Hellinikon. An investment that would generate 40,000 jobs was stalled by bureaucracy and groundless claims that there are antiquities and a forest on the site.
As for the promise of fighting corruption, clientelism and nepotism, the leftist government repeated all the ills of the Greek political system. Several corruption scandals involved SYRIZA members, while Tsipras himself was caught on camera vacationing on the luxury yacht of a well-known shipowner.
Also, SYRIZA members and friends were appointed in key positions without having the qualifications. As for nepotism, Tsipras gave a ministerial portfolio to his cousin, while most SYRIZA ministers hired their relatives and friends in government organisations.
The departing prime minister’s opponent, ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has based his election campaign on the economy, promising immediate tax cuts to businesses and individuals in order to boost growth. Mitsotakis also promised incentives to attract foreign investments and for Greeks to start their own business, pledging to reduce bureaucracy.
In his campaign, Mitsotakis addressed all Greeks, as opposed to Tsipras who is not forgetting his leftist roots and keeps addressing the low-income Greeks.
The departing prime minister’s last-ditch effort to buy the pensioners’ vote for the European Parliament in May by giving them a bonus two days before the polls, was seen as just that. And that cost him, too.
Finally, his nefarious move to change the penal code and make it much more lenient for criminals after he had called snap elections and without the consent of opposition parties, makes Tsipras seem like a man who has finally accepted his defeat and sees that he is not likely to come to power again.