- The possibility of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis calling snap elections is firmly back on the Greek political agenda, spurred by his recent fiscal relief pledges.
- While Mitsotakis is not expected to decide until early next year and much will depend on what opinion polls indicate, the earliest window for snap polls is in the Spring of 2022.
- Two consecutive elections will likely be needed to yield a single-party government.
National elections are scheduled for the end of the center-right government’s four-year term, which is in the summer of 2023, but the possibility of Mitsotakis pulling the trigger early and calling a vote next year has gained ground over the past few days.
In Thessaloniki, the conservative leader announced on September 11 that beyond the just over EUR 1bn worth of tax cuts and other relief measures this year, his administration would adopt another EUR 2.35bn next year. This pledge came as Mitsotakis announced that the Greek economy would grow by 5.9% this year, rather than the previous estimate of 3.6%.
The ample package of 24 measures set out by Mitsotakis immediately sparked speculation that he is preparing the ground for snap elections. The possibility of New Democracy (ND) opting for an early vote has been on the cards since it won a landslide victory in 2019. This is in part because the next elections will be held under a different electoral system.
Two votes likely needed to secure an outright parliamentary majority
In recent votes, the winning party in Greece has received a 50-seat bonus of seats in Parliament. However, the previous SYRIZA-led administration passed a new electoral law that will lead to the next ballot being held under a simple proportional representation system. It is highly unlikely that under such a system any party, including a dominant ND, could win an absolute majority, meaning a governing coalition would have to be formed.
However, shortly after coming to power Mitsotakis passed a new electoral law that restores a bonus to the winning party, but on a sliding scale that is linked to the level of support it receives at the ballot box. Under this form of enhanced proportional representation, if the winning party passes the 25% threshold, it gains an extra 20 seats. The bonus then increases by one MP for each 0.5 percentage point the party has gained, reaching a ceiling of 50 seats if 40% or more of the votes have been cast in its favor.
As the new electoral law failed to secure a qualified majority in parliament, it will only apply after the next elections. As such, the next vote, under simple proportional representation, is seen by Mitsotakis as an obstacle to be overcome before he can secure another parliamentary majority without collaborating with other parties. In Thessaloniki, he said that the next general election will not produce a clear winner, and he has no intention of trying to form a government with any other party, opting instead for a second national ballot that would be held with the bonus system.
Given these circumstances, one of the things Mitsotakis wants to safeguard against is the possibility that whenever the next elections are held, SYRIZA will not be able to form a ruling coalition that would deny ND the chance of winning a second vote and gaining an outright majority in Parliament. Although based on current polling, the odds are against such a scenario, opposition leader Alexis Tsipras has made it clear that he would try to form a “progressive” coalition, possibly with center-left KINAL and radical left MeRA25.
Spring elections should provide opportunity for the government to associate itself with recovery and growth
Another issue that will be weighing on Mitsotakis’s mind as far as the timing of the next elections are concerned is trying to associate his government as closely as possible with the post-pandemic economic recovery. A relatively strong tourism season, the better-than-expected growth this year, and funds starting to flow in from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility create favorable conditions for the PM in the coming months.
Furthermore, Mitsotakis also knows that the fiscal space he has going into next year, aided by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact escape clause, will likely not be available to him going into 2023. Instead, Greece will have to start reining in its fiscal deficit of around 10% of GDP, leaving little scope for voter-friendly measures.
That is why 2022 seems an attractive option for early elections. Given that two votes would most probably be needed, the likelihood is that Mitsotakis would opt to hold the first round in May, allowing enough time for a second ballot before the summer vacations begin, or from September onwards. A factor favoring the earlier option of the two is that ND suffered a dip in its ratings because of its troubled handling of the wildfires this August and Mitsotakis could want to avoid calling on the electorate after a possible repeat of this next summer.
However, in the wake of frenzied speculation about snap polls, some government officials have suggested that the PM might be better off waiting until the end of his term in 2023 because this would allow voters to feel the full benefits of the economic recovery this year and in 2022. Either way, Mitsotakis is not expected to decide until early next year and much will depend on what opinion polls indicate.
A recent survey by MRB for Star TV gave ND a 37.9% vs 26.7% lead over SYRIZA in voting intentions. A poll by Pulse for Skai TV on the same day put support for New Democracy at 36.5%, and at 25% for SYRIZA.