On July 7, 2019, early parliamentary elections were held in Greece. Under the country’s Constitution, legislative election was to be held on October 20, 2019, but Greece has again missed the chance (since as long as 2004) to get the parliament upon a regular schedule...

Vladimir Ivanov, Doctor of Political Sciences, Associate Professor of Department of Comparative Political Science, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia‬, exclusively for IAC

On July 7, 2019, early parliamentary elections were held in Greece. Under the country’s Constitution, legislative election was to be held on October 20, 2019, but Greece has again missed the chance (since as long as 2004) to get the parliament upon a regular schedule.

Snap elections to the national parliament were called on July 7, because of the defeat of the ruling Syriza party in the elections to the European Parliament.

The Hellenic Parliament is a unicameral legislature of 300 MPs elected every four years according to the “enhanced” proportional representation system.

The principles of the country’s electoral system present certain interest. All voters are invited to vote, registration is automated, and voting is a mandatory procedure, as in some other countries; however, fines or other penalties have never been applied to those who did not vote.

This time, the parliamentary elections were preceded by a number of amendments to the electoral law, aimed both at expanding the voter base and the more uniform distribution of mandates. These were the first elections with participation of citizens under 18 years old: the electoral age was lowered to 17 years. Another feature was cancellation of the controversial bonus system used previously in elections, which provided a quota of 50 parliamentary seats to the largest party or coalition. The number of constituencies was increased from 56 to 59. In the first place, Athens B, the largest constituency with 44 parliamentary seats was split. It was established in 1958 to separate the working-class districts from central Athens and reduce the electoral power of the United Democratic Left party (dissolved in 1977). In the 2019 election, Athens B was split into three smaller constituencies (the largest has 18 seats). Attica (southeastern region of central Greece) was also divided into two parts: East and West. Opportunities for voting abroad were expanded.

The relatively low electoral threshold of 3% remained unchanged. The major competition uncoiled between the following political parties: left-wing Syriza, party leader – Alexis Tsipras, previous result – 35.5% (September 2015 elections); center-right New Democracy alliance, party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 28.1%; left-wing Movement for Change (KINAL) coalition, President – Fofi Gennimata, 10.4% [1]; ultra-nationalist extreme right-wing Popular Association – Golden Dawn (HA), Secretary-General Nikolaos Michaloliakos, 7.0%; Communist Party of Greece (KKE), party leader – Dimitris Koutsoumpas, 5.6%; conservative right-wing populist Independent Greeks (ANEL), party leader Panos Kammenos, 3.7%; as well as relatively new parties: far-right Greek Solution founded in 2016, party leader Kyriakos Velopoulos, and left-wing European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25) founded in 2018, party leader – Janis Varoufakis.

The outcomes of the previous parliamentary elections in Greece (January and September 2015), when the left-wing Syriza received the majority of vote, provided a great effect on the entire European Union, since Greece made the most characteristic case of the failed EU neo-liberal and monetarist strategy intended to combat the economic crisis in the Eurozone, the Greek debt crisis. At the same time, Syriza’s way to power really proved that the people’s resistance to the externally imposed austerity regime has a winning chance, which inspired both the left and right across Europe. This was also evidenced by the fact Alexis Tsipras was chosen as the leading candidate of the European Left Party.
Four years have passed and much has changed in Greece. The Greek issue no longer occupies a central place in the European debate, because the country managed to exit from the “Memoranda period”, to comparatively stabilize its economy and improve most social indices.

A number of political scientists consider that the national political confrontation related to the Prespa Agreement became the political suicide of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza, and initiated the party system restructuring in Greece. The Prespa Agreement is called historical, because it ends the long-running dispute between the two Balkan countries and opens the door for Skopje to join NATO and the European Union, while the Greek side believes that the agreement opens a new era in relations between the two countries.

In 2018, Macedonia’s naming dispute (renaming the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia, in accordance with the agreement), immensely heated the political situation in Greece and questioned a vote of confidence in the government. According to opinion polls, 70% of the country population opposed the terms of agreement with Macedonia, believing that taking this name would be an appropriation of Greek heritage and Greek identity. A wave of mass protests swept the country; many Greeks were also convinced that the US and NATO interfered with the country’s sovereignty, steamrolling the conclusion of the agreement for the sake of North Macedonia’s NATO membership.
Minor parties, especially the centrist and right-wing populists, are under increasing pressure because of the escalating polarization between Syriza and New Democracy.

In the run-up to the election campaign, Syriza actively strived to form coalitions and alliances, mainly on a class basis and in the interests of working class, but with little success. The only coalition of left-wing forces formed by the 2019 election was the Movement for Change, which included PASOK, KIDISO and DIMAR parties. The populist scenarios of political confrontation between the new political forces against the old establishment have lost their acuteness and relevance in Greek society and disappeared gradually. Instead, socioeconomic inequality develops more strongly in the society, which promotes the country’s electoral segmentation into classical left and right.

The outcomes of Greek parliamentary elections on July 7, 2019, did not come as a surprise, and mostly repeated the outcomes of the EP elections.

The center-right New Democracy won a landslide victory, with 39.85% of the vote and a strong majority of 158 seats in the Hellenic Parliament. Syriza won 31.53% of the vote (86 seats) and ceased to be the ruling party. Alexis Tsipras passed his PM position to the ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Stable results were demonstrated by the socialist forces, Movement for Change (8.1% of the vote, 22 seats) and KKE (5.30% of the vote, 15 seats). Finally, 2 new parties also broke the 3% threshold: Greek Solution (3.7%, 10 seats) and MeRA25 (3.44%, 9 seats). Other parties did not receive representation in the Hellenic Parliament.

Following results announcement, Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed in his victory speech “to work hard to represent all Greeks”. He said that “Greek society has given a clear signal in favor of economic growth, job creation and security”. According to plans, the envisaged economic growth will be achieved by reducing taxes, attracting foreign investment and improving the business climate.

In turn, the defeated Alexis Tsipras stated that he was taking responsibility for Syriza’s defeat and promised to turn it into a large progressive democratic party.

The key reasons, which determined Syriza’s recent electoral defeat, involve a set of unpopular, but actually compelled and almost inevitable economic and political steps taken by the Greek government in 2018. Last August, Greece withdrew from the international creditors scrutiny (the state was essentially under external control since 2010), and the government had to take certain austerity measures, primarily in social services. The country moved to the 3rd place in the EU poverty ranking (the level of Bulgaria and Romania). Moreover, Alexis Tsipras signed the unpopular Prespa Agreement, which nevertheless resolved an almost thirty-year dispute with the Republic of Macedonia.

[1] The Movement for Change coalition was formed in 2018 and hence did not participate in the 2015 parliamentary elections. Here, the cumulative results of the coalition parties are indicated.