By George Gilson
The government handily won a confidence vote this evening (153-136) after a three-day debate which was characterised by ad hominem and vitriolic exchanges between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Former long-time parliament speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis (arguably the Nestor of the Pasok party) denounced the low level of the discussion in a Facebook post, and many political analysts and pundits opined that the degeneration of parliamentary mores is a huge blow to public trust in parliamentarism and breeds support for the Greek extreme right, currently represented in Parliament by Golden Dawn.
Meanwhile, two new opinion polls were released, one on 9 May (ALCO) and the other on 10 May (MRB), the day of the vote of confidence.
The MRB poll conducted (6-8 May) for Greek Star television gave New Democracy a 7.4 percentage point lead over SYRIZA in the European Parliament election.
Both Tsipras and Mitsotakis called on the electorate to treat it as a referendum on their parties’ political programmes.
New Democracy received 30.2 percent compared to Syriza’s 22.8 percent.
The Movement for Change (Pasok) placed third with 6.5 percent, 6.2 percent for extreme-right Golden Dawn, 6.1 percent for the Greek Communist Party (KKE), 2.1 percent for the Centrists’ Union, and 2.1 percent for To Potami.
The last two are currently parliamentary parties but their numbers indicate they will not be able to muster sufficient support to pass the threshold of three percent of the popular vote to enter parliament in the general election, which must be held by October.
The Greek Ecology-Greens party garnered 1.7 percent, 1.6 percent for the right-wing populist and Russophile Elliniki Lysi Party (Greek Solution). Its leader, Kyriakos Velopoulos is a former MP with the right-wing populist LAOS party.
SYRIZA’s former coalition partner, Panos Kammenos’ Independent Greeks, was nearly wiped of the map with 1.0 percent.
Economic stimulus package
If the electorate were indeed to base its vote on Tsipras’ economic plan, that would be good news for the government, as 59.5 percent of those surveyed viewed the package either very positively (23.2 percent) or rather positively (36.3 percent). On the other hand, 20.2 percent viewed it not at all positively and 12.8 percent said it was not so positive.
Alco survey, large pool of undecided voters
A survey conducted by the Alco polling company for Open television and broadcast on 9 May was more favourable for the government, as it was only 5.9 percentage points behind New Democracy (27.6 versus 21.1 percent).
In a result that rings alarm bells, extreme right-wing Golden Dawn, whose leaders are self-professed admirers of Hitler, placed third with 6.0 percent of the vote, despite the fact that for four years the party has been on trial on charges of being a criminal organisation and of being responsible for several murders. Party leader Nikos Michaloliakios in the past told a party rally that its members are “the seed of the vanquished in the war [WWII].
The Movement for Change (Pasok) garnered 5.5 percent, followed by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) with 5.2 percent.
One of the most noteworthy findings was that slightly over two weeks before the European Parliament election, a whopping 17.8 percent remain undecided.
Polakis pretext for polarisation tour de force
Several days before the surveys, the parliamentary debate was triggered by Mitsotakis’ tabling of a no-confidence motion against Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis, and the PM exercised his parliamentary right to turn that into a motion of confidence in the entire government and not a single minister.
Tsipras told Parliament that he wanted the economic stimulus package that he announced just the day before to be the basis of the MPs’confidence vote. He declared that the 26 May European Parliament election is also a referendum on the same issue.
The debate was held slightly over two weeks before the crucial Europarliament election, and yet there was virtually no discussion of the challenges that the EU is facing with Brexit and the apparent rise of the extreme right.
The EU-related topic most discussed was New Democracy ‘s strong support for the European People’s Party candidate for the presidency, Manfred Weber.
SYRIZA has lambasted Weber as an ultra-conservative who in 2015 supported Greece’s expulsion from the eurozone (Grexit).
Mitsotakis hammered SYRIZA over its refusal to state clearly which candidate for the Commission presidency it will support in the crucial European Parliament vote.
Moreover, the debate on domestic issues focused not on the economy but rather on bitter exhanges between Mitsotakis and Tsipras on their fathers’ history and sources of wealth.
Mitsotakis alleged that Tsipras’ father and uncle (Pavlos and Iraklis Tsipras, respectively) cultivated contacts with the Greek junta (1967-1974) to land very lucrative projects as engineers and contractors.
For his part, the PM essentially suggested that the opposition leader’s father, the late PM Constantine Mitsotakis, spent his whole life in politics but ended up with exorbitant wealth.
Tsipras also recalled that the late Mitsotakis played a key role in toppling in July, 1965, the Center Union government of Georgios Papandreou of which he was a member, in the context of a palace coup, only to become a member of a government of “apostates”.
The PM’s sister Jeanette Tsipras told ERT state television that her father was progressive and had no contacts with the junta.
The PM’s cousin Yorgos Tsipras, who is serving as the head of the PM’s economic bureau, noted that his father Iraklis was a member of the DEKA anti-junta resistance group on Crete and was jailed for complicity in the group’s abortive plot to kidnap King Constantine and Queen Anna-Maria.
All the suspects were jailed, but only Iraklis Tsipras was freed almost immediately, only to be appointed to a key post in the management of the enormously popular Panathinaikos FC.
Yorgos Tsipras debunked a spate of reports that his father and uncle owned a company called Skapaneas which landed state contracts. He stressed that his father was jailed [very briefly] by the junta.
However, on 10 May, the balance sheet of the Tsipras brothers’ Iraklis company, which had a very high profit in the early 1970’s, was picked up by media outlets
It should be noted that under the 1967-1974 junta there was a huge construction boom all around the country.
The other issues that were discussed exhaustively were the behaviour of Polakis and Tsipras’ August, 2018 vacation on the luxury yacht of the late shipping mogul Periklis Panagopoulos.
Polakis gravely offended a New Democracy Europarliament candidate, Stelios Kimbouropolos, a psychiatrist who is quadriplegic, after the candidate tweeted against affirmative action for the disabled, declaring that they do not want handouts but rather equality.
There was a strong backlash after the PM made matters worse by accusing Mitsotakis of “parading Kimbouropoulos around like a planter”.
Mati wildfire disaster
The other topic that was intensely debated was the government’s botched handling of the August, 2018 Mati, Attica wildfire that claimed 101 lives.
There was no evacuation plan and a total lack of communication between the competent state organs – the Fire Service, the General Secretariat for Civil Protection, and Greek Police.
Tsipras stunned the general public when he replied that the Mati tragedy is “warmed over food”.