Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses members of his party during a meeting in Athens on Monday following SYRIZA’s resounding defeat in European elections.
The question of whether New Democracy’s resounding victory in Sunday’s European Parliament and local elections was due to the political appeal of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his conservative party (with all that this would suggest about New Democracy’s officials, policy program and voters’ trust) is a tough one. The same goes for whether the outcome was mostly a protest vote by a disgruntled majority who want to see SYRIZA out.
Greek voters tend to vote against parties rather than for parties. In this sense, most voters used Sunday’s ballot to register a protest vote. The motive behind voters’ behavior is probably less important that the result itself, which was a hard lesson for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his leftist SYRIZA party.
However, the protest-vote interpretation would be significant in the sense that if voters were driven by a desire to see SYRIZA removed from power, then the incumbent leftists will find it extremely hard, if not impossible, to avoid a fresh defeat, or humiliation, in the upcoming national election (Tsipras called for a snap vote which is expected to be held on June 30 or July 7).
It’s hard to see how Tsipras could possibly change the political climate within the course of a single month. Would he suddenly put on a tie and impose a new political etiquette on party officials? Would he magically transform Pavlos Polakis, his outspoken alternative health minister, into a dignified politician? Would he translate Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos’ drivel into meaningful Greek? Would he make Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis and Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis more efficient? Would he stop Education Minister Costas Gavroglou from further dismantling Greece’s education system. Would he, finally, have his aides clean up the mud he has slung against his political rivals?
Such radical changes are, of course, impossible. The political mood cannot change is such a brief period of time. First of all, because New Democracy is not in government so it could not possibly displease voters. Another, more important reason – if we are to judge from Tsipras’ comments following SYRIZA’s heavy defeat on Sunday – is that the premier does not seem willing to change his behavior.
Tsipras has made it clear to Greek voters that he will carry on with the policy of intense polarization and bullying. The question now is whether he will once again attempt to corrupt voters in the runup to Sunday’s runoff vote. After that, Parliament is to shut down ahead of national elections.
Put differently, it is impossible for Tsipras to ditch the profile that he has so meticulously crafted over the past five or six years. Meanwhile, the anti-SYRIZA protest vote could also take a toll on the center-left alliance Movement for Change (KINAL).
In the national elections voters will have an extra reason to back New Democracy: It is simply the only political party than can oust SYRIZA from power. KINAL should expect to come under pressure. Minor parties will also be faced with a challenge.