Kyriakos Mitsotakis assumed the helm of New Democracy on Monday following a surprise result in elections on Sunday night, turning a new page for the conservative party and potentially providing leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with a more serious challenger.
The election of the 47-year-old reformist and scion of one of Greece’s most significant political dynasties was widely expected to change the fortunes of the main opposition party which has struggled since losing power to leftist SYRIZA in general elections last year.
Mitsotakis beat party stalwart and former parliamentary speaker Evangelos Meimarakis, New Democracy’s former interim leader, with 52.43 percent of the vote compared to the latter’s 47.57 percent.
The unexpected result came after a significant number of ND supporters, who had previously backed another two candidates that dropped out in the first round of elections on December 20, threw their support behind Mitsotakis.
In Athens, Mitsotakis fared particularly well, garnering 57 percent of the vote compared to Meimarakis’s 43 percent.
Out of a total of 334,752 people who voted in the elections, 173,297 backed Mitsotakis and 157,224 Meimarakis.
Assuming the party’s leadership from caretaker chief Yiannis Plakiotakis, Mitsotakis vowed to “renew New Democracy creatively and with absolute respect for its traditions and with awareness of the current reality.”
He pledged that under his leadership New Democracy would stand against the “populism of an ineffective government.”
On Tuesday Mitsotakis is to meet with Costas Karamanlis and Antonis Samaras, both former party leaders and premiers, while a meeting with Tsipras is expected in the coming days.
Reacting to the outcome of the ND leadership vote on Monday, sources close to Tsipras sought to play down the significance of Mitsotakis’s victory, referring to the New Democracy leader’s family connections (he is the son of a former premier, Constantinos Mitsotakis, and the sister of a former foreign minister and Athens mayor, Dora Bakoyannis).
They also rebuffed suggestions that Mitsotakis’s victory points to a sea change in the conservative party. “You can’t say that the few thousand elderly voters, who aided Mitsotakis’s victory, creates a new trend in politics,” one source said.
The development was generally well received in Europe, where creditors have been concerned about the slow progress of the implementation of bailout measures by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led government.
Creditors remember Mitsotakis as the official who pushed through changes to streamline Greece’s civil service when he was administrative reform minister under the previous conservative government.
One European official commented to Kathimerini that ND’s new leadership will exert more pressure on Tsipras who, up until now, has been presenting himself to his foreign interlocutors as the only dynamic politician on the Greek political scene.
However, it will not have escaped the attention of foreign officials that Mitsotakis was elected on a promise to vote against the government’s proposal to overhaul the pension system.