Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis sworn in as prime minister, faces diverse parliament

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Center-right leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was formally sworn in as Greece’s prime minister Monday after easily winning a second term with a record-high margin but also facing a Parliament that includes lawmakers from more parties, including three small ones on the far right.

With 99.7 percent of the vote counted, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party had 40.55 percent - more than twice the 17.84 percent garnered by left-wing opposition party Syriza. It was the largest margin of victory in a Greek election in a half-century.

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Mitsotakis, 55, was sworn in after Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou formally gave him the mandate to govern.

“My aim was to secure a stable government with a parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, two elections were needed for that,” he said in a televised meeting with Sakellaropoulou, who as head of state holds a mainly ceremonial role.

“I have committed to implement major, deeply-needed reforms over the next four years, (and) have a strong mandate to do that,” he said. ND won in 58 of the country’s 59 electoral regions, capturing traditional left-wing strongholds, some for the first time.

Mitsotakis spoke with Sakellaropoulou about the “surprise” election showings by four marginal parties - three from the far right and one from the far left. Their entry raises the number of political groups represented in Parliament from five to eight.

“I think our democracy is mature enough to handle whatever temporary turbulence (ensues),” he said.

Held under a new electoral law that boosts the first party, Sunday’s vote gave ND a comfortable majority of 158 seats in the 300-member Parliament, with Syriza getting 48. An election held five weeks earlier failed to provide Mitsotakis with a majority due to the electoral system then in force, prompting the new vote.

The center-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, elected 32 lawmakers and the Stalinist-rooted Communist Party 20.
The remaining 42 seats will be shared between three far-right parties and one representing the far-left.
Athenian Chrysanthi Tzetzenekou said the extreme right’s parliamentary entry worried her.

“Of course, everyone’s opinion is respected,” she added. “Let’s hope for a balance.”

Mitsotakis campaigned on a platform of securing economic growth and political stability, cutting taxes and boosting incomes as Greece moves on from a nearly decade-long financial crisis.

Mitsotakis faces several challenges. He must maintain the economic rebound amid a cost of living crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine, and improve relations with neighboring Turkey which nosedived in 2020 over offshore gas drilling rights but stabilized in recent months.

Mitsotakis’ office said late Monday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned to congratulate the prime minister his reelection. It said the two agreed to meet at a July 11-12 NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The new Greek Cabinet announced Monday largely rotated key members of Mitsotakis’ previous government.

George Gerapetritis, 56, a professor of constitutional law and former state minister, was appointed foreign minister. Gerapetritis’ predecessor in the post, Nikos Dendias, 63, was given the defense portfolio, while former Labor Minister Kostas Hatzidakis, 58, was named finance minister.

Harvard-educated Mitsotakis comes from one of Greece’s most prominent political families. His late father, Constantine Mitsotakis, served as prime minister in the 1990s, his sister was a foreign minister and his nephew is the current mayor of Athens.

Despite scandals late in his first term, including revelations of wiretapping targeting senior politicians and journalists and a deadly Feb. 28 train crash that exposed poor safety measures in public transportation, voters returned to power a prime minister who delivered economic growth and lowered unemployment.

His main rival, 48-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was prime minister from 2015 to 2019 at the height of Greece’s financial crisis. Elected to end financial cutbacks, he instead implemented more. Despite Sunday’s election result, Tsipras gave no inclination he would resign as Syriza’s leader.

All three of the far-right parties that crossed the 3 percent support threshold required to enter Parliament oppose immigration. The issue did not receive much attention during pre-election campaigning despite a June 14 shipwreck of a migrant boat that left more than 500 people missing and feared dead off Greece.

Mitsotakis’ first government pursued a tough border policy, greatly reducing the flow of smuggling boats. It has strongly denied accusations of illegally deporting migrants back to Turkey.

The top far-right performer was the previously unknown Spartans, which secured 4.64 percent of the vote and 12 seats in Parliament. Spartans leader Vassilis Stigas thanked the founder of the Greeks, Ilias Kasidiaris, for his endorsement.

Kasidiaris,’ party was not allowed to filed candidates because he is serving 13 years in prison as a former leading member of the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn.

Elliniki Lysi, or Greek Solution, won 4.44 percent by dredging the populist conservative depths ND eschewed years ago.

Newcomer Niki, or Victory, got 3.69 percent and 10 seats. Led by a school teacher and theologian, it offered a traditionalist Christian Orthodox message. Its critics say pandemic-era anti-vaccination activists comprised its initial core and allege the party has links with pro-Russian groups and zealots at odds with the official Church of Greece.

On the far-left, Plefsi Eleftherias, or Passage to Freedom, won 3.17 percent and eight seats. It’s a Syriza splinter group led by Zoe Konstantopoulou, who has said she will exploit her privileges as a former Parliament speaker to get her party as much speaking time during debates as possible.

She bragged late Sunday that, although her party had elected few lawmakers, “I’m as good as 100, and each of our other lawmakers is good for 20.”

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