Putting the far right on center stage

Putting the far right on center stage

In a political culture where polarization reigns for no specific ideological reason, very often a political party’s policies and personnel choices are determined by its rivals actions and personalities. In recent years, this has brought the extreme right to the center stage of politics.

SYRIZA came to power in 2015 thanks to a broad front that brought together the extremes of the political spectrum. New Democracy returned to power in 2019, with right-wingers at its core, after making a serious turn towards the center. In 2015, the various elements that constituted SYRIZA had some ideological cohesion with each other but had no difficulty in embracing the Independent Greeks, led by Panos Kammenos. The same hard right-winger Kammenos had left New Democracy with its eclectic mix and its already more centrist policies.

Today, both major parties accuse each other of close ties with the extreme right. But although both used the extreme right to come to power, their cooperation with it is very different. SYRIZA was aligned with Golden Dawn at critical moments, before forming a government with Kammenos and afterwards.

New Democracy, on the other hand, applied a more centrist policy than what many of its cadres and voters would have liked. Also, a former New Democracy government oversaw the indictment and jailing of Golden Dawn’s leadership, while this government is trying to prevent the criminal organization’s seed from getting into Parliament. SYRIZA, meanwhile, has employed sophistry to attack the government’s effort, with the result that it has not supported the bid to ban the nascent party from elections.

Clearly, SYRIZA would like to see New Democracy wounded by its campaign against the looming danger and by the possibility of the governing party finding itself with a new party on its right.

What SYRIZA does not seem to have considered is the possibility that its effort to hurt New Democracy may cost it centrist votes. Let’s not forget that SYRIZA tried to use the Prespes Agreement with North Macedonia to drive a wedge between right-wing and liberal/centrist voters in New Democracy. But Kyriakos Mitsotakis, then leader of the opposition, let his party’s right-wingers express themselves without undermining the agreement, which was beneficial to the country. He contained the right and gained the center. Alexis Tsipras, however, still picks his policies and personnel on the basis of what he thinks will harm his rival. Even if this encourages the far right.

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