By Dr. Tomi Dimitrovski
New Democracy still emerges victorious in local elections
Greece has a specific local administration system consisting of 332 municipalities and 13 prefectures. The second round of local elections took place on 8 October 2023. The newly elected mayors and prefects will serve a five-year term from 1 January 2024, to 31 December 2028.
The ruling conservative party, New Democracy, a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), secured victory in the local elections but failed to achieve its initially set objective. It captured only eight out of the targeted 13 prefectures and 202 municipalities, which is eight more than in the 2019 elections. The PASOK party, a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), won 78 municipalities, a decrease of 14 compared to the results in 2019. The leftist SYRIZA party secured 15 mayoral positions, five less than in 2019. Candidates endorsed by PASOK and SYRIZA claimed victory in nine municipalities. The Communist Party (KKE) triumphed in six municipalities, four more than in 2019. The most notable accomplishment of the KKE in these elections was its victory in the city of Patras. Independent candidates will govern 22 municipalities from 2024 onwards, which is eight more than in the previous elections.
Nevertheless, New Democracy faced defeat in the two largest and most important cities. The Greek capital, Athens, was previously governed by Kostas Bakoyannis, a party member and the nephew of the Prime Minister and party leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The victory of PASOK’s candidate in Athens, Haris Doukas, a university professor of mechanical engineering, was heralded by the media as the most significant outcome of these local elections. In Thessaloniki, the nation’s second-largest city, the incumbent mayor Konstantinos Zervas (an independent candidate endorsed by New Democracy) was unseated by an independent candidate backed by PASOK, the lawyer Stelios Aggeloudis. In his post-election address the President of New Democracy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, acknowledged that it was not the party’s finest day.
A new wave of collaboration among leftist parties or just a short-lived trend
Stefanos Kasselakis, the new President of SYRIZA, extended his support to leftist and independent candidates for mayor in the second round of elections. This proved to be the tipping point that propelled opposition and independent candidates to victory in Greece’s two largest cities. Historically, former party leaders, including Alexis Tsipras, were hesitant to openly endorse left-leaning candidates from other parties in such electoral contests.
The media promptly scrutinized Kasselakis’s assistance in the mayoral elections for Athens and Thessaloniki, and some even ventured to speculate on the potential for future collaboration between SYRIZA and PASOK. While Kasselakis indirectly hinted at such a possibility, the President of PASOK, Nikos Androulakis, vehemently dismissed it. Stefan Löfven, the President of PES, welcomed PASOK’s triumph not only in Athens but also in Thessaloniki, Piraeus, and Crete. Löfven underscored a new nationwide trend, one that commenced with victories in these cities.
On 28 October, Greece commemorates the beginning of the anti-fascist resistance, marked by military parades in major cities. During the central military parade in Thessaloniki, Kasselakis and Androulakis sat side by side, yet their body language, as analysed by several media outlets, revealed their strained relationship. Subsequently, on every occasion involving close contact or handshakes between the two leading opposition figures, it became increasingly evident that their relations remained exceptionally frosty. Currently, the two largest leftist opposition parties operate independently, with limited prospects for broader collaboration within the left-wing bloc.
Latest public opinion surveys – Political landscape reshuffle
While PASOK, aided by SYRIZA, did achieve a notable upset in Athens, recent public opinion surveys conducted by reputable agencies do not appear to favour these two parties. On the contrary, measurements taken in late October and early November indicate that New Democracy still maintains the positions it secured during the parliamentary elections held in June of this year. New Democracy reaches 38% and 40%, respectively, with an increase from 22.8% to 23.8% more than the second-place SYRIZA.
PASOK trails SYRIZA by a mere 1 to 2%, marking the first time in several years that PASOK and SYRIZA have been neck and neck in the polls. The Communist Party of Greece and smaller parties, including Greek Solution, Victory, and Course of Freedom, follow closely behind. The President of New Democracy and Prime Minister, Mitsotakis, enjoys the highest popularity rating at 48%. He is followed by Androulakis with 13.8%, while Kasselakis ranks third at 12.1%. Notably, this is the first time in several years that the leader of PASOK has surpassed the popularity of the President of SYRIZA in public opinion polls.
SYRIZA is now grappling with a new challenge – the possibility of a split within the party. Several prominent members have either distanced themselves from Kasselakis or have been ousted. Speculation circulates in the media regarding the possible formation of a new party that would emerge from SYRIZA’s ranks.
The initial surge of euphoria that followed Kasselakis’s election in late summer appears to have waned. Now, SYRIZA faces a period of tension and uncertainty. However, Kasselakis enjoys evident support from younger voters. He is a figure who stands apart from the conventional mould of Greek politics. Having spent a considerable portion of his life in the United States, he completed his education there and met his partner, whom he married in October. The civil ceremony was held in the United States, as Greece has yet to legalise such marriage. Kasselakis has pledged to champion the recognition of same-sex marriage in Greece in the future.
2024 European elections – a new test for political parties
Nikos Androulakis is harbouring the aspiration of restoring PASOK to its former glory. During the past few decades, this party has held the reins of governance in Greece for multiple mandates. Androulakis has set his sights on securing a greater number of MEPs than SYRIZA in the forthcoming European elections in Greece. Now, with a new mayor in Athens, PASOK’s ambitions have soared even higher, and the party’s leader envisions victory in the next parliamentary elections. Both Androulakis and Kasselakis now see cracks in New Democracy’s absolute dominance over the country.
With the loss of Athens and Thessaloniki, New Democracy loses its absolute grip on power
Kasselakis represents the most recent development in Greek politics. The emergence of a new figure on the Greek political stage, who also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, has somewhat disrupted the equilibrium among political parties. However, it’s PASOK that is now awash with euphoria, fuelled by the prospect of wielding significant influence in the two largest cities starting 1 January 2024. Despite the loss of local governance, New Democracy is still at the height of its political power. With strong parliamentary backing of 158 out of 300 possible seats, it possesses a robust parliamentary mandate to govern the state until 2027.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Mediterranean nation consistently achieves record-breaking annual tourism revenues. Macroeconomic indicators favour the government, and promising reports on the country’s economic parameters from leading global institutions in the field are imminent. Moreover, the government and the Prime Minister received accolades from Christine Lagarde during her recent visit to Athens.
More than half of the country’s total population lives in its two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki. The ruling New Democracy party has lost its grip on power there. Currently, economic growth and enhanced performance of the central government remain the primary tools in the arsenal of New Democracy for maintaining political dominance in the country.
About the Author: Dr. Tomi Dimitrovski is a former Macedonian Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia (2014-2018), and former Consul General in Thessaloniki, Republic of Greece (2007-2014). Tomi Dimitrovski holds a PhD (University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, 2018). He teaches Strategic Management of Healthcare Organizations at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, and Healthcare Management at the University of York European Campus in Thessaloniki, Republic of Greece.
The views herein expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of IFIMES.