17. May 2023
The Greek electorate is gearing up for a decisive moment on Sunday 21 May, tasked with choosing their representatives to fill the 300 seats in the Greek Parliament for the coming four years. Current polls suggest a victory for the incumbent right-wing Nea Demokratia (New Democracy) party. However, a series of significant issues, including the Covid-19 response, surveillance scandals, the soaring cost of living, and a recent train accident, could tip the scales.
Understanding the New Electoral Law
This election sees a shift in the electoral system, marking the first national elections of the new millennium in Greece under a simple proportional representation system, a legacy of the previous SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government. This system implies a near impossibility of single-party majorities, a departure from Greek political tradition, although it does not mean that the first party can easily be ignored in government formation, especially when it holds a significant lead. However, future elections will be held under the new law passed by the current New Democracy government, which implements a system of reinforced proportional representation that favours the first party.
The new electoral law also abolished the “bonus” of 50 seats for the first party and introduced a calculation of parliamentary seats for each party that receives at least 3% of the valid votes in the respective electoral contest. This change spoke to the concerns raised by New Democracy regarding potential political deadlock under the simple proportional representation, when the party voted for the reestablishment of the former reinforced proportional representation, and which will be followed in future elections, according to the Greek constitution. In addition, New Democracy also allowed for the first time, Greeks that live abroad to also cast their ballot in these elections.
The Political Chessboard: Scenarios and Implications
The Greek political landscape is a maze of complex relationships and historical baggage. New Democracy, for instance, champions a single-party government and shuns coalitions, particularly with PASOK-KINAL, thanks to the souring of relations in the aftermath of a wiretapping scandal, which emerged in the spring of 2021, and involved the surveillance of its president, Mr. Androulakis, but also of journalists, businessmen, and the Chief of the Greek army by the National Intelligence Agency (EYP) – an agency directly under the supervision of the prime minister – and which remains unresolved.
In this context, the first and most prominent scenario is that no party will pass the threshold of 50% of the votes and subsequently no coalition will be formed, thus leading the country to a second round of elections in July. Then the first party, most likely New Democracy will benefit again from the 50 seats “bonus” and have a stronger leverage to form a single-party government.
Nevertheless, SYRIZA and PASOK-KINAL, the main opposition and socialist parties respectively, prefer the formation of a coalition government after the first round. Alexis Tsipras, president of SYRIZA and former Prime Minister, calls for the formation of a broad “coalition of progressive parties” after the upcoming elections, calling PASOK-KINAL and DiEM25 of Yanis Varoufakis to join forces. However, this scenario seems unlikely to happen as current polls indicate that those parties will not reach the required number of seats, and PASOK-KINAL advocates for a Prime Minister of “common approval” – a request not accepted by Alexis Tsipras, Furthermore, PASOK-KINAL does not consider Varoufakis a representative of the progressive front.
The final scenario involves a collaboration between New Democracy and the populist right-wing party “Greek Solution”. However, this collaboration falls short of a majority and could politically damage New Democracy. The party’s affiliation with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), led by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, draws criticism from liberal members of the European People’s Party (EPP).
Henceforth, the likelihood of a coalition is contingent upon the electoral performance of parties like PASOK-KINAL and the potential for significant shifts in party alliances. However, achieving a workable coalition may prove challenging, with the possibility of a second round of elections in July.
Conclusion: Business as Usual or Convergence for Change
Exit polls suggest a slight lead for New Democracy next Sunday. However, this can be radically adverted if more people, especially the youth, show up to the polls. For this reason, the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, has been constantly calling for the young voters to trust the election process, and his party, and come to the polls on Sunday.
Nevertheless, whatever the result of the next elections it seems highly unlikely that any party would make considerable concessions in order to form a strong coalition government that could lead the country for the next four years, consequently leading the country to a second round of elections later this summer.
Above all, however, the next Greek government, whether leaning right or left, faces the Herculean task of implementing stringent economic policies to manage the soaring national debt, now at 171% of the GDP – the highest in the EU. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming government can garner broad-based support to facilitate growth and stability, or if power politics and party polarization will continue to define the national political landscape.