Each time Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis faces the media these days, there is one question he cannot escape.
When will he call an early election?
The conservative premier has been in power since July 2019 and still has 12 months left of his four-year term.
But soaring energy prices, a three-decade high in inflation, the war in Ukraine and rising tension with Turkey are setting up a daunting scene for the end of the year. Public desperation over the rising cost of fuel and food led the government in recent weeks to roll out fuel and electricity support for poorer households.
But even this money has now run out.
“The winter is going to be difficult,” noted Nikos Konstandaras, a veteran columnist for Greek liberal daily Kathimerini.
Natassa Tsoumbou, a 56-year-old gardener, said she has had major trouble keeping up with the mounting cost of living.
“These past two months, I’ve only been able to pay part of my bills,” said Tsoumbou, who lives in a 70sq m (453sq ft) apartment in north Athens.
“You can barely get anything for €20 ($21) at the supermarket,” she added.
Greece has spent over €10bn in pandemic relief over the last three years. Another €6.5bn have been set aside for energy and fuel benefits in 2022. The government hopes to replenish state coffers with tourism revenue.
So far, increased visitor traffic from Europe and the United States points to a record year, topping even Greece’s last pre-pandemic season in 2019. But for now, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras is fresh out of cash handouts.
“Right now there isn’t a single euro left in fiscal space,” Staikouras told Mega TV over the weekend.
Mitsotakis has repeatedly insisted he intends to see out his four-year term.
But he has also suggested this could change if Greece looks set to face a long and “toxic” general election campaign.
“I know it’s extremely hard to persuade you that elections or a reshuffle aren’t going to be held,” Mitsotakis told reporters in Brussels last week.
His main opponent, left-wing former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, isn’t pulling any punches.
Tsipras accuses the government of mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed more than 30,000 people, coddling big business and failing to shield Greeks from soaring energy prices.
Last week, he noted with disdain that Mitsotakis and his ministers between them owed €13mn in personal debt, despite possessing a portfolio of over 800 properties and 17mn in deposits.
“Can these people feel the agony of citizens unable to pay their bills?” Tsipras, who preceded Mitsotakis as premier from 2015-2019, tweeted on June 25.
“After the election, the party will be over,” Tsipras said.
“The country’s resources will no longer be exploited by 10 large business groups and an equivalent number of families,” he said.
Many analysts believe a snap ballot is likely in the autumn, with announcements by Mitsotakis possibly after mid-August.
Tsipras said this week he expected an election in September.
“All parties are currently on pre-election footing,” said Antonis Papargiris, the research director of polling firm GPO.
“Rising prices in energy, electricity, fuel... are the dominant issues,” he told AFP.
The next general election will be held under a proportional representation system introduced by Tsipras’ left-wing administration. But Mitsotakis said last month that “double elections” were likely to be needed to produce a stable government. To this end, Mitsotakis passed a new law in 2020 giving the winning party between 20 and 50 additional seats in parliament, depending on its final percentage in votes.
But this new system only comes into effect if no government emerges from the proportional representation vote.
A poll for Ant1 TV earlier this week gave Mitsotakis’ right-wing New Democracy party 32.5%, a 10-point lead over Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza. Centre-left party KINAL was third on 12.8%.
But one in 10 respondents remains undecided, the poll conducted by MARC showed. To secure a majority of 151 seats in the 300-seat parliament, a party will need to secure around 38.5% of the vote, Papargiris said.
Under proportional representation, acquiring the same number of seats would require a voting result of well over 40%.
Mitsotakis remains the country’s choice for prime minister over Tsipras, with approval ratings of around 40% compared to his rival’s score of around 30%. Konstandaras cautioned that there was a counter-argument to holding elections too early.
At a time of major uncertainty over soaring costs, the war in Ukraine and tension with Turkey, “people might be upset (if) instability came at the government’s instigation”, he argued.
Mitsotakis will “own the chaos” if he is seen to be bailing out, Konstandaras said. — AFP
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