Greece: Remake of a tragedy?

Published 08.07.2019 22:25
Updated 10.07.2019 00:50

The parliamentary elections have taken place in neighboring Greece. Recent municipal elections and European Parliament contests have seen the ruling Syriza party, with its charismatic young leader Alexis Tsipras, performing very badly. Tsipras, whose mandate was valid until October, wanted to reverse the decline of its voting base by asking for snap elections. He did it back in 2015 with some success. He probably thought the same tactic, consisting of heralding himself as the representative of "new Greece," would be successful again. He failed. Syriza has not been able to mobilize its voters and lost the elections to the Greek "Grand Old Party," the Nea Dimokratia (ND). Are we back to the starting blocks once again?

There is a joke going around among Greeks: "What is the difference between a monarchy and a democracy?" asks one Greek. The other answers, "Well, in a monarchy, you have one single dynasty ruling, whereas in a democracy there are two."

This is true when you peruse the democratic electoral periods of Greece. It is a contest between the all-powerful Mitsotakis/Karamanlis clan on one side and the Papandreou family on the other. Newly elected premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis - called "the Prince" by his rival Tsipras is the last offspring of a very old dynasty.

A graduate of Stanford and Harvard, he holds an impressive CV. His older sister, Dora Bakoyanni, was the mayor of Athens and minister of foreign affairs. His father, Constantin Mitsotakis, was a former prime minister and his nephew, Costas Bakoyannis, has just been elected mayor of Athens with the widest margin of victory ever. Very few politicians today can afford that pedigree.

However, putting nepotism and ruling political dynasties aside, what is really happening in Greece? The country has been under the tutelage of the European Union since 2010, after the terrible debt crisis.

The creditors, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU and the European Central Bank have disbursed more than 275 billion euros ($308.50 billion). Such an immense operation to bail out an economy did not come without stringent measures.

Different Greek governments had to establish, and to a degree implement, several austerity-based policies. Alexis Tsipras was catapulted back on the political stage because he opposed such austerity. Alas, after being elected in 2015, he had to accept in turn such a policy.

Greece received last year the final payment of 15 billion euros from the European Stability Mechanism because Greece alone manages its debt in financial markets. In 2018, the budget gave an excess of 4.5 percent in public expenditures.

Being in the eurozone, the country can still borrow at an incredibly low rate of 2.1 percent over 10 years. The growth has attained 1.9 percent in 2018. Seen from the EU's point of view, the austerity-based policies have delivered the expected results.

Greeks probably do not see it the same way, as written by Marc Fiorentino in his newsletter MonFinancier. Unemployment is around 20 percent still, and minimum wage has dwindled from 760 euros to 580 euros on average.

As a result, the Greek population has lost 30 to 40 percent of its revenue, and one million Greeks, out of a population of 11 million, have fallen from the middle-class ranking due to precariousness and hardship. Unemployment among the youth is still in a very sorry state.

Briefly, Kyriakos Mitsotakis will have to tackle immense social and political problems.

He is credited with 40 percent of the votes cast and an absolute majority of seats in the parliament. He will need all the support he can get from the voters. The turnover was a very low 57 percent, the lowest in decades.

That shows also a dangerous disaffection of the voters from existing political movements. A very good point at the end of the day remains the ousting of the fascistic Golden Dawn party from parliament.

They failed to reach the 3 percent threshold to have seats. They were unworthy of the Hellenic Republic; their disappearance from the Vouli is altogether a good step toward establishing a more peaceful political rhetoric.

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