There were no real surprises at the Thessaloniki International Fair on the weekend. In his keynote speech in the northern port city, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made it clear that the general elections will take place as planned, in May or June, under the current electoral law, and that the dilemma facing voters will be between a government led by him or by his main opposition rival, leftist Alexis Tsipras.
The conservative premier stressed that the challenge in the anticipated second round of voting (which will include a bonus of seats for the first party) will be electing a strong government which can deliver four years of political stability that will protect the economy from further harm and encourage the international markets to give Greece much-coveted investment-grade status within 2023.
The Mitsotakis vs Tsipras dilemma is also expected to be underscored by the SYRIZA leader when he speaks at the end of the fair next Sunday. The only person who seems to disagree is the head of PASOK, Nikos Androulakis, who has said there is no way he would support Tsipras, but also that he wouldn’t support Mitsotakis either, especially after the recent wiretapping affair. By making such statements, the socialist leader has denied himself the role of kingmaker, possibly hoping to wear the crown himself if the second round of voting fails to produce a majority government.
Public opinion polls show that Mitsotakis – despite certain mistakes over the issue of the Androulakis phone tapping – continues to maintain a strong lead. He is credited with dealing effectively with the pandemic and mounting Turkish aggression. He is seen as having strengthened Greece’s international alliances and supported citizens dealt successive economic blows by the lockdowns and the rising cost of energy.
Given these wins and citizens’ known horror of uncertainty, Mitsotakis has the upper hand. This is even more so as SYRIZA continues to fail to rise to the occasion. It has voted against everything, including the defense agreements with the United States and France, and has chosen extreme populism as its main opposition strategy. That’s fine for a party hoping to squeeze into Parliament with 3%, but not for one eyeing the top job. The 5.5 billion euros in subsidies announced by the prime minister at TIF – aiding mostly vulnerable households – will boost his popularity further.
That said, the country is running out of fiscal space and such handouts need to be reined in. Greece has a way to go to catch up with the rest of Europe and needs to focus on the difficult days ahead. It also needs to carry out all those reforms in areas like the justice and health systems and the country’s overall modernization that Mitsotakis pledged in the last elections and never completed.