It has been a dramatic psephological swing in Greece with voters rejecting the incumbent leftwing Syriza party, in power since 2015. As it turns out, the verdict in Sunday’s election has been decisively in favour of the centre-right party called New Democracy, helmed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
There is little doubt that the unabated fiscal straits have profoundly influenced the outcome. In the net, it has been a landslide victory for New Democracy. As the election marked the eclipse of Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza government, Mr Mitsotakis was sworn in as Greece’s new Prime Minister on Monday.
Acutely aware of the compelling economic circumstances, he has much to prove in the aftermath of his convincing victory. As much is clear from his gracious acceptance speech ~ “The people of Greece gave us a strong mandate yesterday to change this country. We will honour it to the full. The job begins today and I am absolutely certain we have the capacity to complete it.”
He assumes office after a tumultuous phase in Greece’s modern history, with the country convulsed by a prolonged financial crisis and contending with a burden of bailout debts owed to international creditors, not to forget the frequent violence on the streets of Athens. While the economy has registered modest growth, the national output of Greece has declined by onequarter during the crisis. The rate of unemployment, at about 18 per cent, remains the highest in the eurozone.
More than 400,000 skilled young Greeks are working abroad. The poverty rate exceeds 30 per cent of the population. Judging by any parameter, therefore, Mr Mitsotakis succeeds to a depleted inheritance in a country that was shaken to its foundations not too long ago. Not that Mr Tsipras was alone as he countenanced the economic blight.
Apart from Greece, the stuttering economy had plagued Portugal and Spain no less in course of a dismal chapter in Europe’s economic history. Fairly reassuring are the initial signals. Mr Mitsotakis’s election has been welcomed by the hard-pressed business community and by international investors… as an opportunity to shift Greece in a more market-friendly direction after the Tsipras era.
The sheer scale of the new Prime Minister’s victory ~ his party has an absolute majority in Parliament ~ is expected to give him a free hand to pursue reforms that have been delayed or opposed by successive governments. But Mr Mitsotakis will have to reassure Greece’s creditors that his government will comply with a programme of further reforms that the outgoing administration had agreed to, but couldn’t effect.
Only a year ago, the country emerged from its third international bailout. Small wonder the result has been called a bourgeois uprising in one of the least open economies in the European Union. As a Harvard alumni, Mr Mitsotakis represents the dynamic, educated segment of society that rejects the anti-market convictions of the traditional left. The change of guard in Athens implies that the new Prime Minister has a long road ahead to bring about the economic revival of a beleaguered country.