OPINION

Can New Democracy be centrist?

Can New Democracy be centrist?

Speaking at the recent New Democracy congress, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated the aim for his party to form a government by itself after the next general election.

This may make sense as a pre-election strategy, but it’s a goal that is looking increasingly elusive as the governing party sees its popularity slip in the polls. Whether this is justified or not is for another conversation, but the fact needs to be acknowledged.

In order to regain some of its lost dynamic, the conservative party will have to successfully navigate the quicksand of its ideological identity, balancing the expectations of centrist and right-wing voters.

Former prime minister Antonis Samaras reminded the audience at the congress of the significant presence of the “pure-blooded right” in the party, giving himself a distinct leading role in a part of the political spectrum he considers “his own.”

A well-meaning observer could argue that this may allow ND to hold onto many voters from the right who do not want the party to turn into another To Potami, the now-defunct centrist, socially liberal political party that was founded in 2014 and seemed to inspire many, but was dissolved in 2019.

Many of these voters would lean toward the nationalist Greek Solution, the newly created National Creation party and other smaller, more extreme groups.

However, with SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras drifting from the radical-left to the center and much more given the rising popularity of Nikos Androulakis and his PASOK-Movement for Change party – in the same part of the spectrum – Mitsotakis will also need to convince voters that New Democracy is more centrist than right.

Mitsotakis effectively “responded” to Samaras by noting that ND dropped to just over 18% in the first elections in 2012 when the latter led the party, and needed to muster its forces, including with the comeback of Dora Bakoyannis, to return to 29% and form the core of the coalition government that followed.

One thing we have learned from the elections of the past few decades, is that the party that appeals to the center tends to win. New Democracy made significant gains when it opened itself up more to the center, as we know from the victories of Kostas Karamanlis in 2004 (with 45% of the vote) and 2007 (42%), and, more recently, Mitsotakis in 2019 (40%).

If it wants to contain its losses, form a government (possibly a coalition) and – most importantly – deal with the challenges in the economy and foreign policy of the “day after,” New Democracy needs to convince voters of its centrist credentials. Is this something it wants? And if so, is it something it can achieve?