The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. Dr. Tomi Dimitrovski is a former Macedonian Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia (2014-2018) and former Consul General in Thessaloniki, Republic of Greece (2007-2014). In his article titled “2023 Parliamentary Elections in Greece: Uncertainty as Never Before”, he analyzes the current developments in Greece in the context of the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 21 May 2023. We bring his article in full.
Greece was the first country from the region that joined the European Union. Namely, Greece became and EU member in 1981, a member of the Schengen Zone in 1992, and it joined the Eurozone in 2001. Greece has been a NATO member since 1952.
As it is surrounded by three seas, specifically the Ionian Sea, Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, Greece has a specific geostrategic position. The United States of America and Greece cultivate friendly relations. Nevertheless, it is important to note that majority of the Greek population is of Orthodox religion, and a part of the population harbors sympathies for Russia. This does not constitute any problem for the strategic orientation of the country towards the EU and NATO. The US Navy has its naval base (in the Souda Bay) at the Crete Island since 1951. In 2021, the US and Greece signed an agreement that allows the US military to utilize three more military bases on the Aegean coast of Greece – in Volos, Litochoro, and Alexandroupolis.
Currently, the Greek government is headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is also the President of the New Democracy (since 2016), the largest political party in Greece. The party was established in 1974 after the fall of the military junta in Greece. The New Democracy party is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP). Greek politics has its specificity which was prevailing in the past. However, it is still present in the New Democracy party. The specificity are the family connections among the party leadership (Greek family-political dynasties). Namely, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the son of former Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis. Mitsotakis senior served as the Greek Prime Minister in the period from 1990 to 1993. Kyriakos Mitsotakis was born in Athens in 1968 and graduated from Harvard (1986 – 1990). From 1990 to 1991 he worked as a financial analyst in a bank in London. He got his master’s degree at Stanford University (1992 – 1993) and holds an MBA from Harvard (1993 – 1995). Kyriakos’s sister, Dora Bakoyannis, was the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs (2006 – 2009). Dora’s son Kostas Bakoyannis is the current Mayor of Athens. Mitsotakis has been actively engaged in politics since 2000. In 2004 he was elected as a representative in the Greek Parliament. At these elections he won the largest number of votes in Athens among the candidates of the New Democracy party. Mitsotakis enjoys unqualified support of the European People’s Party (EPP). He also cultivates excellent cooperation with the United States. The Democratic Party in the US has excellent relations with the large and powerful Greek diaspora in the US.
The SYRIZA party (Coalition of the Radical Left – Progressive Alliance) was established in 2004 and is currently the second largest party in Greece. The party is the successor of the SYNASPISMOS (Coalition) party, which was established in 1989. SYRIZA is headed by Aléxis Tsípras. He was born in Athens in 1974 and is a civil engineer by profession. Tsípras has been the president of the party since 2008. In the past he was a member of the Communist party of Greece (KKE). In SYRIZA there are no family connections in the leadership structure.
PASOK was established in 1974. The name of the party is an abbreviation of Panhellenic Socialist Movement. The PASOK party is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES). In the past it was the ruling party in Greece for several years, while currently is the third largest party in the country. Since recently (2021), the party has had a new leader - Nikos Androulakis, who is a former member of the European Parliament. Androulakis was born in 1979 and is a civil engineer by profession.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) was established in 1918, after the socialist revolution in Russia. Its current president is Dimitris Koutsoumpas, (born in 1955), an attorney at law by profession. It is important to emphasize the party’s participation in the fight against the fascist occupation in World War II, in the Civil War (1946 - 1949), and the fight against the Greek junta (1967 - 1974).
The Ellinikí Lýsi /Greek Solution/ party was established in 2016 as (de facto) successor of the LAOS party, which had been established in 2000. LAOS is an extreme right-wing party. Its president is Kyriakos Velopoulos, a journalist born in 1965.
MeRa25 is a left-oriented party established in 2018. Its president is Yanis Varoufakis, born in 1961. Varoufakis earned his doctorate in economics at the University of Essex, United Kingdom in 1987. Varoufakis was the finance minister in the SYRIZA -led government from January to July 2015, that is at the time of the major debt crisis in Greece. He prepared an apocalyptic plan for a new national payment system if Greece was to leave the Eurozone. Of course, Varoufakis was subsequently removed from the position and left SYRIZA. His background renders him unsuitable for a coalition.
On 2 May this year the Greek Constitutional Court banned participation of the Elines (translation: Greeks) party at the next elections. The founder of the party is Ilias Kasidiaris, a former member of the already dissolved Golden Dawn party that was characterized as a (neo-Nazi) party. The Elines party was established in 2020 and has a sufficiently high rating to be part of the new Parliament. The ban of participation at elections will suit the New Democracy party. The headquarters of Golden Dawn party was closed in 2019. Several members of the party were found guilty of the murder of hip-hop singer Pavlos Fyssas.
Other parties in Greece have a lower rating and will hardly meet the 3% election threshold.
The Greek Parliament has 300 representatives, which means that support of 151 representatives is required for establishment of the government. The Greek Election Law has a specificity called “reinforced proportional representation,” which was introduced in 2004. Namely, the party that wins the largest number of mandates in the parliament is granted an additional number (bonus) of mandates. This was introduced to make it easier for the winning party to establish a government on its own, that is without coalition partners. In general, this model has functioned well as it facilitates a stable parliamentary majority in the country.
The elections scheduled for 21 May will be held in accordance with the new election model, which will be used only this time. Specifically, the model was established in 2016 by the left-oriented government headed by Aléxis Tsípras. However, according to the Greek legislation, the adopted amendments to the law will be enforced with a delay (on these elections on 21st of May). This legislation reduces the possible influence of the current government on the next elections. The 2019 elections were held in line with the old election law. The election model (adopted in 2016), which will be the basis for the elections on 21 May, does not include the additional bonus representatives and is based on the proportional election model. However, the current Mitsotakis - led government has reinstituted the old election law in 2020 with some minor modifications. This means that the next elections (whenever held after 21 May) will be held using the traditional model with a somewhat modified system of “bonus representatives” for the winner. This means that if the winning party wins 25% of votes it will get a bonus of 20 representatives, and if it wins 40% (if it wins 38% to be more specific), it will get a bonus of 50 representatives. A simple simulation for the current elections scheduled for 21 May, with the current distribution of power, would be as follows: if the winner of the elections wins around 42% of votes, according to the current legislation the winner would have 126 representatives, while according to the old-new law, which will be in force from the next elections (for example in July 2023), it would have 158 representatives (mandates). The simulation was made according to the current balance of power and for a convocation of the parliament that would include six political parties.
The railway tragedy that took place in the Tempi district on 28 February 2023 took 57 lives. Many of the victims were students at the peak of their youth. The Athens-Thessaloniki passenger train collided with a cargo train. It was reported that the cause of the tragedy was human error. However, for several years the railway union has been complaining about the poor conditions and requested improvements of the infrastructure of Greek railways. Nobody was held accountable for this. This time the entire, Mitsotakis’s government paid the price and it’s rating drastically dropped.
The scandal including tapping of PASOK President Androulakis, which emerged in the summer of 2022 will also influence on the elections. Namely, after the warning about a bugging attempt from the cyber security service of the European Parliament, the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), established that the Greek Intelligence Service (EYP) had tapped Androulakis’s phone. It transpired that the tapping of the phone was done on a lawfully obtained order from the relevant prosecutor, under the pretext of Androulakis’s possible cooperation with the foreign factor. This did not actually sound convincing. The political price was paid, and the director of the EYP intelligence service resigned from the position, as well as Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s General Secretary, Grigoris Dimitriadis. He is his nephew from his sister (not Dora but Katerina Mitsotakis) and Prime Minister’s most trusted man. A dilemma remains whether Mitsotakis was informed about this delicate action of the EYP.
Greece has respectable agencies for analysis of the rating of public parties and public opinion. For a long number of years their analyses forecasted the election results well.
The coming elections will be a test for the following major parties: New Democracy, SYRIZA, and PASOK, and smaller parties such as KKE, MeRa25, and Ellinikí Lýsi.
The current rating of the New Democracy goes up to 33%. However, the analyses of the agencies traditionally also refer to the “forecasted votes” parameter, which for the New Democracy goes up to 36.9%. The New Democracy would need around 38% to establish the government, not by the current but by the election model including the increased bonus of additional representatives. This fact should be considered, as it is possible that the country would hold new subsequent elections (in early July). If nobody establishes the government after the upcoming elections. The New Democracy has evidently survived the drop in its rating after the tragedy in the Tempi district. SYRIZA has a lower rating than New Democracy by around 6% (its rating is at the level of 27%). It is followed by PASOK (rating at the level of around 10%), and then KKE (rating at the level of around 7%). The rating of the MeRa25 and Ellinikí Lýsi parties is somewhat above the 3% election threshold for the participation in the Parliament.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis has the highest personal rating as the candidate for the next Prime Minister - 37%. He is followed by Aléxis Tsípras, whose rating is at the level of 21%.
The agencies for analysis of the rating of political parties also do simulations of possible representative mandates. If the current distribution of power remains unchanged until the elections, the parties that will make up the parliament include: ● New Democracy: 121 (representatives) ● SYRIZA: 100 ● PASOK: 33 ● KKE: 32 ● MeRa25: 12 ● Ellinikí Lýsi: 11.
There is no doubt that the Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou will firstly give the mandate for establishment of the government to Mitsotakis, so that he can try to establish the government. However, it is certain that New Democracy will not be able to establish the government on its own. The only right-wing oriented party is Ellinikí Lýsi, but a coalition of the two would not ensure a total of 151 votes.
Therefore, there are two options.
One option is that Mitsotakis returns his mandate, hoping for new elections. He may pursue an aggressive campaign with the aim of increasing the party’s rating to at least 38%. The next elections would most probably be held in early July before the start of the high tourist season. It would perfectly suit Mitsotakis if smaller parties do not meet the 3% election threshold, so that he could get a higher number of bonus representatives. If then New Democracy wins more than 38% of votes, it will be able to establish the government on its own.
The other option for Mitsotakis is to offer PASOK to establish a coalition government, but somehow there is no major enthusiasm for such a thing currently. Cooperation between New Democracy and SYRIZA is not an option.
If Mitsotakis returns the mandate, Tsípras will try to establish the government. However, chances for establishment of the government by left-wing oriented parties (SIRIZA, PASOK, and MeRa25) are slim and such an option would also not be popular. Prime Minister Mitsotakis said that such an option would mean a “government of the defeated.” At the same time, the left-wing oriented parties are afraid that by such a move they would cause revolt among the voters, as such a practice has been unprecedented so far. Furthermore, nobody in Greece is ready to forget Varoufakis’s apocalyptic plan to establish a new payment system in the country. KKE refuses any kind of cooperation.
Recently in an interview Androulakis stated that even if a coalition government gets established in the future, Mitsotakis cannot be its Prime Minister. Androulakis alluded to the tapping affairs and the tragedy in the Tempi district. Mitsotakis naturally does not agree with such a stance, as he enjoys the largest support of all the politicians.
For the first time in several last election cycles, the public opinion polls do not indicate that any party could currently win by a landslide and then establish the government on its own. All this is complicated by the current election model. Coalitions are not popular in Greece but are also not impossible. Possible subsequent elections using the old-new adjusted model of bonus representatives would give an edge to the largest party. The last few weeks recorded a trend of increased rating of Prime Minister Mitsotakis and New Democracy.
About the author
Dr. Tomi Dimitrovski is a former Macedonian Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia (2014-2018) and former Consul General in Thessaloniki, Republic of Greece (2007-2014). Tomi Dimitrovski holds a PhD (University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, 2018). He teaches Strategic management of healthcare organizations at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, and Healthcare management at the CITY College, University of York Europe Campus in Thessaloniki, Republic of Greece.
The article presents the stance of the author and does not necessarily reflect the stance of IFIMES.
Ljubljana/Skopje, 17 May 2023
 IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018. It is also the publisher of the international scientific journal »European Perspectives«.