Greece was at the polls yesterday, having had snap legislative elections called after a surprising result in the European Elections in May. A surge in support for the centre right Nea Dimokratia won them a third of the popular vote six weeks ago, ten percentage points clear of 2nd place and the incumbent national government party SYRIZA.
For SYRIZA, the writing has been on the wall for some time. After winning the last legislative elections in September 2015, they have not led a single poll since the end of that year. As was proven by the European Elections, they have consistently found themselves around ten points behind Nea Dimokratia, and so this snap election is little other than loss cutting for the party and its leader Alexis Tsipras.
In a result that will be finalised after this column is sent off but before you read it, the new Prime Minister of Greece will be Kyriakos Mitsotakis. His party Nea Dimokratia will return to government for the first time since it held office between 2009 and 2015, and what a glorious chapter of Greek history that was…
No family stays at the top of politics for a century if the money’s not flowing in
Mitsotakis himself has become the darling of the world’s establishment. Fawning articles in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and even on the BBC have been written as he cruised to power.
That handily brings us onto my first problem with him: self-servitude and nepotism. He is the great nephew of Eleftherios Venizelos (Prime Minister of Greece on seven separate occasions, and after whom Athens International Airport is named), a cousin of Sofoklis Venizelos (who himself was Prime Minister three times), the son of Konstantinos Mitsotakis (Prime Minister in the nineties), and the brother of Dora Bakoyanni (former Mayor of Athens and Foreign Minister). Call this an oversimplification all you like, but no family stays at the top of a country’s politics for over a century if they’re not serving themselves, in other words if the money’s not flowing in.
Nepotism is among my least favourite things in politics. I can’t tell whether it’s because I was never afforded a top job without working for it as a result of my last name or if it’s because I’m a good person, but I can’t stand it. Sure, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, being the latest on the production line has done pretty well for himself. As every establishment media source will be quick to remind you, he got a degree from Harvard you know. That is of course impressive, but doubtless he wouldn’t have got close to achieving that had he been from one of the numerous parts of Greece that have been left behind by successive governments.
The greece i know is in desperate need of public investment
Conveniently, that leads onto my next point. I have previously lived in Greece, and even now I don’t, I return to visit semi-regularly. In the Greece I know the roads are uneven, cracked, and potholed. Outside of Athens, public transport is outdated and unreliable. Educational institutions are run down and not fit for purpose, healthcare is behind the times, and so on, and so on, and so on. Further on from that, the country is still very much in recovery from the government quite literally running out of money in the first half of this decade, having just about concluded its bailout programme last year. The Greece I know is in need, arguably in desperate need, of public investment.
However, Mitsotakis and Nea Dimokratia have been promising the opposite. As I mentioned earlier, a familial dynasty that lasts for a century in politics doesn’t simply come about without money in the right places. And how does the money end up in the right places? You could see it as a returned favour. The raison d’être of Nea Dimokratia, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and his family is to ensure that the richest people and corporations pay as little as as they can get away with.
That is forgivable in a time of plenty, in a nation which already has great infrastructure and top class social programs, but in today’s Greece, which is none of those things, it is simply the wrong thing to do for the development of the nation and its people. While cutting taxes may feel nice, and in the short term put the odd euro more into the pocket of the average citizen, it won’t make the roads smoother, and it won’t make the schools better either. A Nea Dimokratia government, therefore, is effectively sentencing Greece to four more years of the same tired infrastructure, in the name of the rich getting richer, as of course it will be the rich getting the largest tax cuts.
As with every time I make a prediction in politics that something isn’t going to go well, I sincerely hope I get proven wrong, especially given the deep affection I hold for Greece having lived there. Although I doubt it, maybe the Harvard graduate does have a way to fix Greece’s ailing infrastructure while cutting taxes, and not crashing the nation’s economy like they did last time they were in office. I don’t think he does, however.
Tsipras did what he thought was right rather than what could have been politically expedient
As for his predecessor, I do believe history will judge Alexis Tsipras more kindly than the Greek electorate have done. He took over a country in financial ruin; the laughing stock of Europe. Sure, he didn’t guide Greece into a golden era; the country is still struggling and, as I’ve stressed, in need of investment, but it is undoubtably in a better state now than it was when he took over in 2015. Furthermore, unless the new right-leaning government takes a hatchet to the Prespes Agreement in the style of Donald Trump to the Iran Nuclear Deal, Tsipras was the man who finally put the naming dispute with Greece’s neighbour to the north (which let’s be real everyone who doesn’t live between Kerkyra and Heraklion was calling “Macedonia” until this January) to bed.
In retrospect, one could even suggest that signing that agreement ended up playing a part in costing him his job. To a not inconsiderable proportion of the fervently patriotic Greek population, compromise on an issue such as Macedonia amounted to selling out, but Tsipras did what he thought was right rather than what could have been politically expedient. You can argue until blue in the face about the whys and wherefores of the issue at hand, but doing what he believed was right rather than being politically expedient in my mind makes Alexis Tsipras honourable, deserving of respect, and a true leader.
Whether we’ll be able to say the same about the latest incarnation of the Mitsotakis dynasty remains to be seen, but as far as that’s concerned I live in hope rather than expectation.