Athens, Greece | AFP | Greeks vote on Sunday in a general election that is the first in the country’s post-bailout era, which looks set to oust leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after a record-setting four years in power.
Greece’s first avowed atheist and longest-serving crisis premier, as well as the youngest in over a century, Tsipras is battling to overcome a 10-point deficit in opinion polls, mainly caused by widespread dissatisfaction with his government’s tax policies.
Tsipras’s Syriza party “broke a number of promises and dashed hopes among party voters. They were forced to follow a policy of austerity” that badly hit the middle class, says political analyst George Flessas.
Tsipras stormed to power in 2015 with promises to eliminate austerity. Instead, Greece’s creditors forced him to accept a third bailout following a disastrous six-month negotiation that nearly saw the country pushed out of the euro.
Now, the 44-year-old vows to make “the biggest comeback in modern Greek history”, despite suffering successive defeats to conservative challenger Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the last two months.
In campaign speeches, Tsipras has accused Mitsotakis — who was part of a 2012-2014 crisis government — of “disastrous” mismanagement that brought hundreds of thousands of job losses and business failures.
Tsipras has touted his Syriza party’s track record in reducing unemployment by around eight points and raising the minimum wage for the first time since 2012.
His government also rolled out a batch of last-minute tax cuts in May.
But the majority of the electorate seem unmoved.
“In 2015, Syriza represented hope and political renewal. Now it’s a party like any other,” says Andreas Tsanavaris, a former party activist.
Christos Maravlis, who voted for the once-radical leftists in 2015, says many will be seeking to “punish Syriza for betraying the Greek people” with false promises.
Tsipras himself in June called for the snap election after a stinging defeat to Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party, which secured a margin of nearly 9.5 points in May’s European Parliament elections.
New Democracy later carried off the bulk of the country’s regions in local elections a few days later.
– Family in politics –
Mitsotakis is a hard-nosed reformer and political dynasty scion.
He is the son of former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, one of the country’s longest-serving parliamentarians. His sister, Dora Bakoyannis. is a former minister and Athens’ first female mayor.
And new Athens mayor Costas Bakoyannis, elected in May, is his nephew.
His election as prime minister would mark the return of family politics to Greek government, says Tsipras, whose modest background interrupted this long-running political tradition.
Three years after taking over the leadership of conservative New Democracy, once headed by his father, the 51-year-old Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant has pledged to create “better” jobs through growth, foreign investment and tax cuts, and to “steamroll” obstacles to business.
The latest opinion polls show New Democracy electing between 155 and 159 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.
Syriza looks set to fall to between 80 and 83 lawmakers from 144 in the previous parliament.
The final number will depend on how many of the smaller parties secure at least 3.0 percent of the vote, the minimum required to enter parliament.
– New arrivals –
Two new arrivals on the political stage are the MeRA25 anti-austerity party of Tsipras’s former maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and Greek Solution, a nationalist, pro-Russia party formed by former journalist and TV salesman Kyriakos Velopoulos.
Each could stand to elect between nine and 10 MPs, polls show.
Greek Solution has been buoyed by Tsipras’s controversial agreement with North Macedonia that ended a bitter 27-year dispute over the country’s name.
The fledgling party has also picked up voters from neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which is in steep decline amid an ongoing trial for the 2013 murder of an anti-fascist rapper, allegedly carried out with the knowledge of senior party members.
The current electoral law gives a 50-seat bonus to the winning party, in principle enough to form a majority in the 300-seat parliament.
If the July 7 election fails to produce a government, a new electoral law on proportional representation will take effect without the 50-seat bonus.