The 2023 Greek national elections as a turning point in the political path of Greek democracy, the manifestations of the far-right phenomenon and the “patriotic” audience of the center-right. By Assistant Professor Athina Skoulariki*
Undoubtedly, the May and June 2023 elections mark a pivotal moment in the political trajectory of Greek democracy. The dominance of New Democracy, with a substantial lead of over 20 percentage points compared to the second party, and the fragmentation of votes within the center-left between SYRIZA and PASOK, challenge the traditional bipolar nature of political discourse (with the exception of 2012). While in the 2015 and 2019 elections, SYRIZA had replaced PASOK within the two-party system, it seems that now, with the cards being shuffled, it is uncertain how the left-wing parties will evolve.
According to iMEdD’s research on pre-election political discourse, Kyriakos Mitsotakis adopted a consistently positive campaign rhetoric. His victory was attributed to his focus on effective governance, the economy, and “national security” (namely, defense acquisition, Greek-Turkish relations, and immigration). In contrast, the significant decline in SYRIZA’s popularity can be primarily attributed to issues of credibility, organizational competence, and the absence of a coherent alternative development plan.
However, it remains worthy of reflection that a number of issues related to democracy and the rule of law (the wiretapping scandal, control of justice, restriction of Independent Authorities, pushbacks and the Pylos shipwreck), as well as public goods (disintegration of national healthcare/hospitals, dismantling of railways/Tempi train crash etc.) did not significantly impact voters or influence their voting decisions. There are two potential reasons for this phenomenon: either citizens attribute blame to all past governments that have ruled, or they have been persuaded by the explanations put forth by the current government, which has enjoyed unparalleled communication support. Notably, TV media coverage exhibited an unprecedented inclination to either suppress or heavily criticize any opposition viewpoints.
The promotion of extreme religious conservatism and nationalist rhetoric, both within Parliament and through media channels, is permeating society and eroding freedoms and rights.
In this context and given the electoral appeal of Golden Dawn between 2012 and 2018, the parliamentary representation of three far-right parties is not surprising. The coexistence of Greek Solution, led by Kyriakos Velopoulos and recognized for its nationalist inclinations and endorsement of conspiracy theories, alongside the fundamentalist orthodox party Victory and the militaristic neo-fascist Spartans (which has garnered a 9% appeal among young people), serves as clear manifestations of the far-right phenomenon that has now firmly taken root in Greek society.
New Democracy, with notable ministers and executives originating from the same political sphere (LAOS), made attempts to appeal to the “patriotic” audience (by addressing topics such as immigration and the Turkish minority in western Thrace). However, it is well-known that when center-right parties adopt a nationalist and xenophobic agenda, it inadvertently strengthens the position of genuine proponents of such ideologies who can more credibly espouse extreme views beyond the boundaries accepted by mainstream parties. The Prespa Agreement serves as a typical example: Despite the pragmatic shift of Mitsotakis’ government, the narrative of “national betrayal” has become deeply ingrained in public consciousness.
In the new parliamentary term, New Democracy will strive to differentiate itself from the far-right parties while simultaneously trying to attract their voters. It is likely to adopt certain issues championed by the far-right, but present them in a more refined manner. The establishment of the Ministry of the Family serves as a prime example. The promotion of extreme religious conservatism and nationalist rhetoric, both within Parliament and through media channels, is permeating society and eroding freedoms and rights. With the right and far-right gaining momentum, the center in a state of weakness, and the left experiencing diminished influence, the risk of a derailment of the political system is becoming a tangible concern.
*Athina Skoulariki is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Crete, specializing in the field of “Sociology of Nationalism: Discourse and Politics“.
Translation: Anatoli Stavroulopoulou
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