When Greeks headed to the ballot box on May 26, the country’s ruling, left-wing Syriza party found itself facing calls for a snap election after the right-wing New Democracy surged in the European Parliament.
Syriza lost by more than nine percentage points to New Democracy, marking the largest ever defeat in European elections in Greece.
While New Democracy secured 33 percent of the vote, Syriza shored up around 24 percent.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who took office after Syriza came to power in January 2015 elections, complied with the calls for early elections. Previously slated for October, Greek elections will now take place on July 7.
On Friday, New Democracy announced eight new candidates who will run for parliament in the upcoming election. The statement announcing their candidacies noted that party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis “wants to unite all Greeks in a joint effort to make Greece a brighter country”.
If European, regional and local elections – all of which took place on May 26 – are an accurate gauge of voters’ sympathies ahead of the upcoming national vote, New Democracy will likely lead the next government.
Speaking to TRT World ahead of the European vote, New Democracy spokesperson Sofia Zacharaki said her party “do[es] not consider any election to be a foregone conclusion” but is confident that it will repeat its success.
“Our optimism lies in the feeling we get from meeting people during the campaign trail all around Greece,” Zacharaki added.
Causes of Syriza's decline
Since first coming to office in January 2015, Syriza has faced criticism over its management of the country’s nearly decade-long economic crisis, the refugee influx and the name accord that saw the country’s northern neighbor to the Republic of Northern Macedonia.
On June 17, 2018, Greek and Macedonian diplomats signed an accord designed to put an end to the decades-old name dispute between the two countries. Known as the Prespa Accord, that agreement was unpopular with many Greeks and prompted protests throughout 2018 and in early 2019.
Despite New Democracy’s apparent advantage, it may prove difficult to secure an absolute majority in the 300-seat parliament, meaning the party will likely have to strike up a coalition.
After the EU-Turkey migration agreement came into effect in March 2016, tens of thousands of asylum seekers became stuck in Greece and unable to continue their journey to elsewhere in Europe.
Ntina Reppa, a member of the left-wing Antarsya party, accused Syriza of failing to implement an effective refugee policy that focused on “integration” and “education”.
By confining asylum seekers to Greek islands, Reppa told TRT World that Syriza has put in place a “racist, anti-refugee policy”.
The Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist party that first surged in 2012 national elections, lost two seats in the European elections. However, a new far-right party, Greek Solution, picked up two seats.
Currently on trial for allegedly operating a criminal organisation, Golden Dawn has suffered to drum up additional support in recent years, although it became the third largest party in the parliament after the 2015 vote.
But Syriza has also faced criticism from the left, chiefly over its economic policies and its handling of the refugee crisis that erupted in 2015 and saw hundreds of thousands of people pass through the Mediterranean country.
Nonetheless, Thanos Dokos, director of the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, expects Golden Dawn to retain its presence in the parliament after the upcoming vote.
“They can even do a little better …It's still possible, although it looks like they will stay in the single digits.”
“Voters are torn between the fact that they won't change on issues like migration and public order and economy,” Dokos continued. “But on the other hand, they still remember that new democracy was one of the two main parties that brought Greece into the crisis.”
Losing the base
Explaining that Syriza has disappointed much of its support base, Dokos added that many view the left-wing party as having reneged on its promises to support struggling workers and others hit hard by the financial crisis.
“You still have 18-percent unemployment, others who have jobs but are bitter for other reasons, and local societies who are very unhappy about migration on some of the islands,” he said, referring to the buildup of refugees and migrants on a handful of Aegean Islands.
Syriza supporters, however, point to the country’s 26-percent unemployment and more than 50-percent youth unemployment at the time the party was first voted in four years ago.
Addressing Syriza’s political and electoral committees, Tsipras sought to downplay the significance of the European vote, pointing out that his party secured roughly the same amount of votes that they did during the last European Parliament elections in 2014.
“Perhaps we will eventually become stronger, stronger in the crucial battle that we have before us [and] in the crucial struggle of the national elections,” he told the audience, insisting that the Syriza-led government “listens to citizens” and “does not ignore them”.