Kyriakos Mitsotakis is out to transform New Democracy from a center-right party with clear references to the traditional parliamentary Right, into a centrist, liberal political party. The idea is to turn ND into a party with loose ideological principles which will nevertheless be capable of securing majorities in Parliament by making the requisite adjustments.
Mitsotakis is acting in accordance with his nature and convictions in a bid to complete his father’s unfinished project. His most recent battle against ND’s old regime was bloodless, albeit highly symbolic. He turned down the idea of nominating the incumbent president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, for a second term as Greece’s head of state – a nomination that already had the support of the leftist opposition.
The prime minister has won the battle of weaning ND off what is vaguely understood as the “traditional Greek Right,” mostly thanks to the fact that conservative MPs are loyal to the party's president. There was very little reaction on a party level as whoever is New Democracy president always has full control over the party.
Most European center-right parties have undergone similar transformations. However, pressure from immigration and financial distress in recent years has strengthened the influence of political variants on the nationalist Right. At the same time, the influence of traditional right-wing parties is on the wane.
The fact that New Democracy’s shift toward liberalism is taking place at a time when the trend is losing steam in other countries in Europe should not come as a surprise. Greece is a less-than-original state, not only as far as politics is concerned but in virtually all forms of human activity. The country has always been a latecomer in mimicking foreign models.
Furthermore, the influence of the nationalist Right, since it first emerged on the domestic political stage in 1977, remains steady around 7 percent. That was the share garnered by the National Alignment (Ethniki Parataxis) party and Golden Dawn used to control around the same percentage. In the last general elections, the aggregate percentage won by nationalist parties was around the same level. In light of this, Mitsotakis should not feel threatened.
However, the political success of liberalism requires a robust economic class that is able to produce wealth. The distribution of this wealth among the broader strata of the population can henceforth secure political support for a liberal credo. Otherwise, the whole project is condemned to create nothing but upheaval.
A similar transformation was attempted by Costas Simitis when he was prime minister. But when the bubble burst in 2010, the once-dominant PASOK unraveled. To be sure, Simitis’ stint in power was not in vain, as many of his officials and supporters have sided with Mitsotakis, whose overall project can only succeed if the global conditions are in his favor.