Greek rivals launch final push before Sunday election

AFP , Friday 19 May 2023

Greece's outgoing conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and leftist challenger Alexis Tsipras will make a final push for votes at closing rallies on Friday ahead of the most uncertain general election in a decade.

Leading candidates in Greece s elections
Leading candidates in Greece s elections are holding their final rallies on Friday, ahead of a 24-hour campaigning blackout before polls open on Sunday. AFP


Harvard graduate Mitsotakis has picked a spot beneath the imposing Acropolis in Athens to tout his record of steady growth, tax cuts and a post-pandemic tourism revival that has offered debt-ridden Greece a rare respite of economic stability.

Tsipras will meanwhile travel to the western port of Patras, Greece's third largest city, to argue that the incumbent government had handed out billions of euros to political allies while Greeks are struggling with high inflation.

Political dynasty scion Mitsotakis and atheist leftist Tsipras have travelled from island to border in recent weeks, canvassing for votes in an election that, because of a change in the electoral system, may require a follow-up, likely on July 2.

Current polls give the outgoing prime minister a clear lead of between five and seven percent, but the rules for Sunday's ballot set a high bar for an absolute majority that no party is likely to clear.

Mitsotakis has repeatedly urged voters not to squander away Greece's economy gains, warning that failure to return his New Democracy party to power will lead to "paralysis" and "chaos" amid geopolitical challenges such as the Ukraine war or record inflation.

But Tsipras, a 48-year-old engineer who was prime minister from 2015 to 2019, has described Mitsotakis's government as one that "does not care about the problems of the people".

The leftist, who led a rocky bailout negotiation in 2015 that nearly crashed Greece out of the euro, says the government's allies have gained most from Mitsotakis's term.

He also points to a wiretap scandal that forced the resignations of the head of the intelligence service and a nephew of Mitsotakis, who was a top aide in his office.


Almost 10 million Greeks are eligible to cast ballots on Sunday. With nearly 440,000 Greeks as young as 16 voting for the first time, both leaders are aggressively courting the youth vote, which is heavily influenced by high unemployment.

While Greece posted growth of 5.9 percent in 2022, Tsipras has argued that the benefits were not trickling down to the population, with many workers still earning wages that have not kept pace with sharply rising costs.

He is pushing for salary hikes that Mitsotakis says will cost over 80 billion euros. Tsipras' estimate is four times less, and he argues that Greece could obtain more EU financial aid.

Rejecting accusations of fiscal irresponsibility, Tsipras said that on his watch, Greece "exited the bailout safely, we renegotiated the public debt and left 37 billion euros in state coffers".

But Mitsotakis, who has never lost an election against Tsipras, wields stability as his trump card.

"Are we going to continue building a strong Greece or return to a time when Greece was the pariah of Europe?" he asked at a rally in the north-eastern city of Kastoria on Wednesday.

For 72-year-old retiree Nikos Petropoulos, "He's a prime minister who restored the image of Greece overseas.

"Growth is back and at least we don't have companies closing everywhere like with Tsipras."

But teacher Giorgos Thomopoulos, 46, asked, "How the Mitsotakis government can be pleased about the return of growth when we are struggling daily to pay our bills."

Rage And Justice 

Adding to the mix of unpredictability is the impact on the vote of a train crash in February that killed 57, mostly university students.

Greece's worst rail disaster on record sparked days of angry protests.

The government drew fire after initially trying to blame the accident exclusively on human error, when Greece's notoriously poor rail network has suffered from years of under-investment.

This week, a group representing the victims of the crash and their families filed a criminal lawsuit against Mitsotakis and current and former transport ministers and officials.

"I completely understand their rage and am the first who wants justice to be meted out at all levels," Mitsotakis told Antenna TV this week.

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