What happened on Sunday was very good news. Conservative voters flocked to polling stations to elect their new party leader. They were joined in the queues by people who aren’t New Democracy supporters but simply sense the need to see the creation of a strong pro-European opposition. The former showed that it would be unwise to discard the center-right. The latter showed that they are ready to make a big step if they have to. This would likely require new brand name. It would most certainly require that New Democracy evolves into a 21st century party, because in terms of its image and structure, ND seems stuck in Kolonaki Square of the 1970s.
Among Sunday’s voters there were people who would never have thought that they would ever stand in line for one or two hours to vote for a conservative leader. A section of society is eager to see the creation of a rival political force. In mid-2014, New Democracy had a historic opportunity to turn itself into a pro-European front. The usual suspects got the upper hand and torpedoed the idea.
The party may soon get another chance. Greece’s middle ground is in despair and eager for change. Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras would stand a good chance of luring these voters, but his DNA and that of his close aides is incompatible with an overture of that kind.
So here’s a chance for New Democracy. Evangelos Meimarakis knows that he would be playing a transitional role and that he would be expected to guide ND into its next phase. What this phase would look like would of course depend on the whims of ex-premier Costas Karamanlis, and the vision would have to clearer by the summer. Meimarakis is direct and smart enough to lead the party into a new era, and bring fresh cadres to the fore.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on the other hand, would embody a generational change for ND. Should he become leader he would face a daunting task. He would have to keep the party together without killing his appeal among the non-conservative voters who backed him. Too much renovation can wreck an old house. Should he succeed, he could bring New Democracy closer to the standards of a modern European center-right party.
The expectations are great – and this will become clear on January 11. Both candidates must prove that the two worlds which they represent, these two mentalities and generations, can coexist. Thousands of people have placed their hopes on this venture. It’s mainly people that have been on a losing streak. Making them feel they queued for an empty shirt, as it were, would deal them the final blow.