GREEKS gave Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party a strong mandate to head the country’s first post-bailout government, ending four-and-a-half years of left-wing rule by Syriza, which was marked by austerity imposed by international lenders. New Democracy will have a majority in the new parliament, having won 158 of the 300 seats, defeating Syriza by more than eight percentage points.
Although widely expected, the victory was still an impressive achievement for Mitsotakis, who in the three-and-a-half years of his leadership modernised the staunchly conservative New Democracy, opening it up and moving it to the political centre, a strategy that has been vindicated by Sunday’s result, which saw the party more than double its number of MPs since the last election.
Of course, reforming and modernising the country after three bailouts in a decade, marked by merciless austerity policies, will be a much more challenging task for the Harvard-educated, investment banker who was first elected to parliament 15 years ago. As minister of administrative reform in the Antonis Samaras government, he pursued reforms with limited success, while consistently supporting the drastic downsizing of the huge public sector and rolling back the frontiers of the state.
Whether this will be one of his government’s priorities remains to be seen, although during his campaign the main theme was the revitalising of the economy after a decade of recession and record unemployment. Attracting foreign investment that would create jobs will be the main objective of his government as will be tax reform. High taxes, imposed during the assistance programmes, have been stifling business, making tax reform an imperative but the government will be constrained by the need for fiscal discipline.
Mitsotakis’ economics and banking background, having worked for big banks and consultancy firms before entering politics, make him ideally suited for leading the Greek economy out of recession and creating the grounds for steady growth. It will not be easy, Mitsotakis, saying that “a difficult but beautiful battle lies ahead,” during a speech to supporters after his victory was announced. “Society wants growth, work, security and for Greece to become, as it deserves, strong again.”
On Monday he said that the Greek people “gave us a strong mandate to change Greece and we will honour this mandate to the full.” We can only express the hope that Mitsotakis succeeds, but he will have to tackle countless obstacles and difficulties to achieve the change he promises.