By Tom Salotti
ATHENS — Greek nationals head to the polls today to decide who will be leading the Hellenic Republic for the next five years. In late May, current Prime Minister Alex Tsipras called for snap elections, after his Syriza party suffered a defeat in the country’s European Parliament elections.
New Democracy, a conservative party led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, gained three seats in the European election to bring their total to eight seats in the EU parliament, with 33% of the vote. Syriza, the party that makes up the current government in Greece, earned 24% of the vote and kept six seats. The election was widely seen as a referendum on Tsipras’ government, a coalition of left-leaning parties, and the results forced the prime minister to call for new national elections.
Based on opinion polls and the European election results, New Democracy is widely expected to win a plurality of votes and could secure an outright majority of 151 seats in parliament.
National elections in Greece are conducted under a system called “reinforced proportionality.” To win any seats, a party must earn at least 3% of the national vote.
The 300 seats in the national parliament are allocated in a number of ways. Key to this allocation is each party’s ‘valid’ vote total (VVT), which is calculated by the percentage of votes cast, after votes to parties that didn’t reach 3% are discarded.
Twelve seats are apportioned based on the national total of valid votes cast and represent a single, country-wide constituency.
Multi-seat constituencies around the country are assigned 231 seats. For example, the Athens B constituency is home to around 15% of the country’s voters and elects 42 members to parliament. Other, less populated constituencies will only elect one member.
There are also seven single-seat constituencies that elect a member to parliament based on first past-the-post voting, where the candidate with the most votes wins.
And finally, any party that wins a plurality of the vote nationally receives an automatic 50-seat bonus to ensure government stability. This is the last election in which this rule will apply —a law passed in 2016 will sunset this provision.
All Greek citizens who are at least 17 years old may vote. Voting is mandatory in Greece but not enforced.
Tsipras came to power in 2015 on promises to stand up to the “troika” of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank. They had imposed stiff austerity measures on Greece as part of a bailout package offered to the country in the wake of a national financial crisis. Although a popular referendum rejected the terms of the bailout, Tsipras ultimately accepted the deal.
Since 2015 the prime minister has steered his party toward the center, transforming from an anti-EU progressive populist to a pro-NATO hawk and enforcer of financial discipline. He ended the decades-long dispute over the name of Greece’s northern neighbor, allowing them to call themselves North Macedonia, delivering a win for NATO. Pundits have called this a political blunder and part of the reason Syriza got stomped in the European elections in May.
Despite macroeconomic numbers showing improvement in Greece—the economy grew 1.5% in 2017, 2.1% in 2019, and the IMF predicts 2.4% in 2019; unemployment peaked at 28% in 2013 and has fallen to 18%—voters are still feeling the crunch. Youth unemployment remains high, at around 40%. Many voters say they feel as though Tsipras has abandoned them by capitulating to international creditors, and they blame him for Greece’s lingering economic problems because he raised taxes on the middle and upper classes.
Indeed, a New Democracy victory would be seen as a return to normalcy for Greece. When Syriza came to power in 2015, pundits saw it as a ‘revolution’ and a wave of populism. Today’s election will likely put an establishment party back in power—New Democracy was one of two political parties that ruled Greece for most of the country’s recent history. They are a conservative right-of-center party and advocate for privatization of state businesses and lower taxes to encourage economic growth.
An outright majority in the elections for New Democracy will also return a political dynasty to power—Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ father was prime minister, and his brother was foreign minister.