Interest in recent elections to pick a leader for Greece’s nascent center-left party was not limited to ideologically affiliated politicians and voters. Ruling SYRIZA leftists and the conservative New Democracy opposition followed developments closely and appeared surprised by the large turnout.
Some conservative officials had thought that if To Potami chief Stavros Theodorakis won the race and PASOK threw its weight behind him, “then things could get tough [for New Democracy].” Others had expressed concerns about the effect that a victory by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis would have on liberal, centrist voters. Others still appeared more concerned about a win by MEP Nikos Androulakis, “because he is young and knows how things work.” Finally, a minority in the conservative party saw a threat in former PASOK minister Yiannis Ragousis, “a reformist who opposed working with New Democracy.”
In the end, the election was a triumph for PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata. The process was widely considered a success thanks to the turnout. It also demonstrated that the center-left appeals to a significant segment of the electorate.
However, the real difficulties have just begun. Gennimata is not a new leader. Meanwhile, senior members of her own party – PASOK – actively supported the candidacy of Androulakis during the race, while non-PASOK voters appear numb after the result. Will Gennimata manage to include and make good use of runner-up Androulakis, of third-placed Kaminis, but also of Potami (Theodorakis as well as his party) in the new grouping? Will the new party manage to become something more than a “PASOK plus,” in fact a party that can represent those who did not vote for it in the last election?
The answers to these not-so-easy questions will largely determine the fate of the center-left and of the center-right. As far as New Democracy is concerned, the election of Gennimata (as the above comments suggest) was the most convenient outcome. Her victory was the only outcome that did not mark a surprise or turn-of-the-page moment. Gennimata will have to prove she can inject fresh momentum into the new party.
It will not be an easy task. Up until the November 12 vote, one in three voters who voted for PASOK and Potami in 2015 said they would vote conservative in the next election. This is not a negligible percentage, especially given the fact that New Democracy’s effort to win an overall majority in Parliament is hinging on a slim margin. Now Mitsotakis has every reason to make overtures to that audience.