Just as it was starting to look like plain sailing for Greece in 2022 with the pandemic starting to ease, tourism traffic picking up ahead of the summer and tens of billions of euros from the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility being invested in the Greek economy, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came along, turning it all upside down.
The cost of fuel went through the roof, shortages grew and more than 4 million refugees have already fled Ukraine. Nobody in Europe is talking about recovery and better days ahead anymore. If the war drags on any longer, meanwhile, a new global recession will also become likely. Estimates of a 4.5% increase in Greece’s gross domestic product have already been consigned to the realm of science-fiction and everyone is struggling to guess what’s coming next.
It has become abundantly clear that in the past month and a half, and despite Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ efforts to buttress the financially vulnerable against the price hikes in fuel and other products, mounting frustration over the massive electricity bills landing on people’s doorsteps is turning toward the government.
The most recent public opinion polls show the difference between governing New Democracy and main opposition SYRIZA narrowing to around eight points after spending the last three years stuck in the 10% range. The rate of 37.5-38% that would be needed in the next general election to secure an absolute majority has become elusive for ND, and the more the economic crisis deepens, the more so it will be.
This fact, coupled with the certainty that the crisis is here to stay for some time, drove Mitsotakis to change tack. Giving up the certainty of a one-party New Democracy government at the next election, he has stated that the aim now is not an absolute majority, but political stability. “The people will dictate whether the country is governed by one or more parties,” he said.
The only clear way out right now appears to be changing the electoral law again and returning to the enhanced majority system that got SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras elected twice and the Mitsotakis government into office in 2019
With conservative ND’s popularity at 32% and center-left coalition Movement for Change’s (KINAL) at 14% in the last Pulse poll published in March, and assuming a similar distribution of undecided voters (8.5%), these two parties would get 50% of the popular vote. That means at least 151 seats in the 300-seat House in the first national election to be held under a system of simple proportionate representation. This number could be much bigger depending on what the smaller parties do. Basically, if ND’s Mitsotakis and KINAL’s Nikos Androulakis shook hands on it, they could form a government after the first round.
Under these circumstances, going to a runoff for an enhanced majority (which Mitsotakis has heralded in the past, speaking of “double polls”) would be a very painful political decision – and especially if the international instability continues. Apprehensive of his party being regarded as a crutch propping up ND, Androulakis would also run into problems if – in an effort to scupper the partnership without appearing to do so – he rejected a proposal for a coalition, possibly by asking that Mitsotakis step down as prime minister and be replaced by someone else.
What’s more, no one can be sure that ND would get the much-coveted 37.5-38% it would need to achieve an absolute majority in the runoff. And this would mean the country being thrust back into a period of uncertainty as voters head to the polls for a third time, and a lot of political bartering just when a steady hand is needed at the wheel.
The only clear way out right now appears to be changing the electoral law again and returning to the enhanced majority system that got SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras elected twice and the Mitsotakis government into office in 2019. Under this system, the top party – even if it’s ahead by just 1% – gets an additional 50 seats in the House.
The prime minister has rejected this option because he believes it to be defeatist and because it will shine a spotlight on the senseless way his government amended the electoral law just a few months ago. Nevertheless, it would be the responsible and wise thing to do, a gesture that would demonstrate some serious political grit. Most importantly, though, it would give the country a safe way out and the stability it needs in these crucial times.