Sunday, 10 January 2016

Mitotakis' election offers Greece new hope

Conservative MP Kyriakos Mitsotakis was poised to win the New Democracy party leadership on Sunday night. With three quarters of precincts reporting, he had won over 51 percent of a nationwide vote. The final result was to be announced on Monday morning, but as the final precincts are the Athenian urban vote, where the reformist Mitsotakis has strong support, he is expected to widen his lead against populist Evangelos Meimarakis.

The result was an upset to the populist camp, which was understood to have the support of former party leader and PM Konstantinos Karamanlis, nephew of the party founder. Meimarakis was the front runner in a first voting round three weeks ago, but Mitsotakis garnered the support of the third and fourth candidates, Apostolos Tzitzikostas and Adonis Georgiadis, forced out of the second round.

The election is a game changer for the Syriza-led governing coalition. New Democracy has spent all of 2015 in disarray, following its fall from power in January last year. This gave Syriza an essentially opposition-free year in which to make spectacular negotiating blunders and ultimately a U-turn in the anti-austerity policy that formed the basis of its election. This left Greece at something of a political dead end. The crisis has already claimed socialist and conservative governments. Syriza seemed to be the only option left.

Meimarakis was seen as a consensus-builder who might enter into a grand coalition with the ruling leftists. Mitsotakis, whose signature legislation in 2014 was a system of assessment for state employees, and who presided over the dismissal of some 5,000 people from the public payroll, will be harder to coax into such an arrangement. Syriza overturned all of his policies as a matter of ideology. Mitsotakis can be expected to respond with a trenchant opposition style.

Mitsotakis' political office in central Athens was filled with media and supporters on Sunday night. The euphoria of the scene was reminiscent of a general election victory. It is hard to imagine that his supporters see his election to the party leadership as anything other than a foreshadowing of his election to the premiership.

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