On 10 January 2016, Kyriakos Mitsotakis won the intra-party elections and became the new leader of New Democracy. What were the decisive catalysts that made Mitsotakis’ victory possible against all odds? What can one expect in the immediate future? These are the questions which Vassilis Petsinis, a political analyst at the European Commission’s representation in Greece, tries to answer in his recent article in Open Democracy ‘Kyriakos Mitsotakis: a new leader with an old name’.
Petsinis underlines that in post dictatorship Greece, New Democracy has been marred by the internal competition between the Mitsotakis and Karamanlis ‘party-clans’. This intra-party antagonism roughly corresponded to ideological connotations in that the former clan has been opting for a more liberal/centrist whereas the latter for a more conservative / popular right orientation: Kostas Karamanlis (Prime Minister: 2004-2009) maintained the popular right approach of his uncle Konstantinos Karamanlis (Prime Minister: 1974-1980), largely as a political alternative to the ‘Third Way’ narratives espoused by the PASOK-leader, Kostas Simitis (1996-2004). Kyriakos Mitsotakis‘ father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, enjoyed a brief tenure in office (1990-1993). Antonis Samaras (Prime Minister: 2012-2015) prolonged the dominant tradition of the popular right within the party-ranks until his subsequent U-turn and endorsement of the austerity measures.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis had to compete with three candidates who represented three different shades of New Democracy’s popular right in the latest intra-party elections: the interim leader Evangelos Meimarakis; the former Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis; and the governor of the Central Macedonia municipality, Apostolos Tzitzikostas.
In the light of the, highly unpopular, austerity policies, the media and various political actors had managed to portray Mitsotakis as a fervent ‘neoliberal’ and unconditional proponent of the privatization terms included in the ‘Third Memorandum’. But it appears that the New Democracy’s electorate saw in Kyriakos Mitsotakis the leader who can gradually attract the younger and more liberal segments of the society towards the party. Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other representatives of the more centrist/liberal segment of the party granted their assent to the most recent law on LGBT rights as well as the adoption of a more ius solis approach to citizenship laws in Greece. The new party-leader has also espoused a number of additional ‘youth-friendly’ prerogatives such as the facilitation of start-up opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
Petsinis estimates that Kyriakos Mitsotakis will not condescend to the politics of confrontation but he will still pursue a vocal opposition strategy vis-à-vis the government. Furthermore, any speculations for a grand coalition government, including the participation of New Democracy, should be currently ruled out. One of the main priorities for the new leader will be to actively reverse the obstacle of New Democracy’s low popularity among the younger age-groups. Lastly, one can expect that Kyriakos Mitsotakis will wholeheartedly enjoy the support of key political actors among the centre-right in the core states of Western Europe.