There were a lot of surprises at Sunday’s first round of elections for a New Democracy leader, foremost of which was the high voter turnout. Few expected their number to reach 400,000, while there were those who turned up to vote but gave up after seeing the long queues. They went to send a message to the government, because as it happened the New Democracy election also took the form of a protest against the government’s behavior and policy decisions. The voters expressed the desire of a portion of the country’s citizens for an opposition party that will have a strong voice and enough power to make sure that the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition does not continue doing what it likes, as it likes.
For New Democracy itself, the large turnout was undoubtedly a happy occasion because it shows that there is still life in the conservative party. The only negative was the high average age of the voters who turned up. We do not know whether and to what extent this fact affected the outcome, but while Evangelos Meimarakis had been expected to come first, Kyriakos Mitsotakis coming in second place over Apostolos Tzitzikostas was a surprise. Even though Mitsotakis had been gaining in popularity in recent weeks, no one had expected him to gain enough votes to become a serious contender for the top spot.
Many believe that the battle in the second round will be between those who are loyal to Costas Karamanlis and those faithful to Constantine Mitsotakis, both former prime ministers. This will certainly be one aspect of the upcoming contest, but it won’t be the only one. Both Meimarakis and Mitsotakis have made sure to endow their candidacies with more than just their roots, as there are those who believe them to be representatives of two clans much more than they believe this themselves. While both express the center-right and pro-European voice of the party, the battle will be fought between a more liberal economic policy that will be in line with the modernization of the party and the state structure against the more traditional approach shaped by New Democracy as part of its so-called “popular right” ideology.
We expect the contest to be tight and determined by more than the 12 percentage points separating the two candidates in the first round. It will rely on turnout but also on who Adonis Georgiadis and Tziztikostas decide to side with. Either way, both Meimarakis and Mitsotakis are expected to be tough opponents for the government.