Conservative Mitsotakis sworn in as Greece’s prime minister while far-right sees election surge

Mitsotakis trounced the left-wing opposition by a record margin in a Sunday election that also ushered new far-right parties into Parliament

Kyriakos Mitsotakis
Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis takes the oath during a swearing in ceremony at the Presidential palace, in Athens, Greece, on June 26, 2023.Thanassis Stavrakis (AP)

Center-right leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was formally sworn in as Greece’s prime minister Monday after easily winning a second term with a record-high margin over the left-wing opposition but also facing a Parliament that includes lawmakers from new far-right parties.

With 99.7% of the vote counted, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party had 40.55% — more than twice the main opposition Syriza party’s 17.84%. It was the largest margin of victory in a Greek election in a half-century, and slightly expanded New Democracy’s 20-percentage-point lead in an election held five weeks earlier.

Mitsotakis, 55, was sworn in after Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou formally gave him the mandate to govern. “My aim was to secure a stable government with a parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, two elections were needed for that,” he said in a televised meeting with Sakellaropoulou, who as head of state holds a mainly ceremonial role.

“I have committed to implement major, deeply-needed reforms over the next four years, (and) have a strong mandate to do that,” he said. ND won in 58 of the country’s 59 electoral regions, capturing traditional Socialist and left-wing strongholds, some for the first time.

Mitsotakis spoke with Sakellaropoulou about the “surprise” election showings by four marginal parties — three from the far right and one from the far left. Their entry raises the number of political groups represented in Parliament from five to eight.

“I think our democracy is mature enough to handle whatever temporary turbulence (ensues),” the prime minister said.

Held under a new electoral law that boosts the first party, Sunday’s vote gave ND a comfortable majority of 158 seats in the 300-member Parliament, with Syriza getting 48. A May election failed to provide Mitsotakis with a majority due to the electoral system then in force, which prompted the new vote.

The center-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, elected 32 lawmakers and the Stalinist-rooted Communist Party 20.

The remaining 42 seats will be shared between three far-right parties — including one endorsed by a jailed former top official in a defunct, Nazi-inspired party — and a fourth party representing the far-left.

Athenian Chrysanthi Tzetzenekou said the extreme right’s parliamentary entry worried her.

“Of course, everyone’s opinion is respected,” she added. “Let’s hope for a balance.”

Mitsotakis campaigned on a platform of securing economic growth and political stability, cutting taxes and boosting incomes as Greece gradually recovers from a nearly decade-long financial crisis.

Greek government bonds are still rated below investment grade, although that’s widely expected to change this year amid the booming economy and the prospect of stable government.

Mitsotakis faces several challenges. He must maintain the economic rebound amid a cost of living crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine, and improve relations with neighboring Turkey which nosedived in 2020 over offshore gas drilling rights but stabilized in recent months.

His new Cabinet announced Monday largely rotated key members of his previous government.

George Gerapetritis, 56, a professor of constitutional law and former state minister, was appointed foreign minister. Gerapetritis’ predecessor in the post, Nikos Dendias, 63, was given the defense portfolio, while former Labor Minister Kostas Hatzidakis, 58, was named finance minister.

Harvard-educated Mitsotakis comes from one of Greece’s most prominent political families. His late father, Constantine Mitsotakis, served as prime minister in the 1990s, his sister was a foreign minister and his nephew is the current mayor of Athens.

Despite scandals late in his first term, including revelations of wiretapping targeting senior politicians and journalists and a deadly Feb. 28 train crash that exposed poor safety measures in public transport, voters returned to power a prime minister who delivered economic growth and lowered unemployment.

Mitsotakis’ first government pursued a tough border policy, greatly reducing the flow of smuggling boats, but has been accused of illegally deporting migrants back to Turkey, which it has strongly denied.

His main rival, 48-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was prime minister from 2015 to 2019 during the height of Greece’s financial crisis. Despite the election result, Tsipras has shown no inclination to resign as party leader, and there have been no open calls from within his party for him to do so.

All three of the far-right parties that crossed the 3% support threshold required to enter Parliament oppose immigration. The issue did not receive much attention in pre-election campaigning, despite a June 14 shipwreck of a migrant boat that left more than 500 people missing and feared dead in the Mediterranean Sea off Greece.

The top performer, the previously unknown nationalist Spartans, was endorsed ahead of the second vote by Ilias Kasidiaris. He is serving 13 years in prison as a former leading member of the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn that was linked to multiple violent street attacks.

Spartans leader Vassilis Stigas publicly thanked Kasidiaris on Sunday for helping his party win 4.64% of the vote and 12 seats in Parliament.

Elliniki Lysi, or Greek Solution, won 4.44% by dredging the populist conservative depths ND eschewed years ago.

Newcomer Niki, or Victory, got 3.69% and 10 seats. Led by a state primary school teacher and theologian, it offered a traditionalist Christian Orthodox message. Its critics say its initial core was formed by pandemic-era anti-vaccination activists and has links with pro-Russian groups and zealots at odds with the official Church of Greece.

On the far-left, Plefsi Eleftherias, or Passage to Freedom, won 3.17% and 8 seats. It’s a Syriza splinter group led by Zoe Konstantopoulou, who has said she will exploit her privileges as a former Parliament speaker to gain her party as much speaking time during debates as possible.

She bragged late Sunday that, although her party had elected few lawmakers, “I’m as good as 100, and each of our other lawmakers is good for 20.”

President Sakellaropoulou noted Monday that “the eight-party new Parliament will engender many challenges for its speaker.”

“We’ll all go through it together,” she said. “I hope for the best outcome for the country.”

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