Good news from Greece.
On Monday, the voters repudiated extremism on both the left and the right, and gave a resounding mandate to a centrist party that promises to steer a course toward long-term economic and social stability.
With 91 percent of the vote counted, Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party ousted the socialists, led by the Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras. Mitsotakis was chosen the new prime minister by 39.7 percent, compared with 31.5 percent for Tsipras.
The victory gave New Democracy an outright majority of 158 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament, more than twice as many as its current representation. And not only will it be free of the compromises and contortions of government by coalition, it will also be rid of an entity known as the Golden Dawn.
Far from a dawn of any kind, this party of neo-Nazis and xenophobes represents a recrudescence of the primitive hatreds and barbarous violence that blotted out the light of civilized Europe in the last century.
In a few short years, this band of thugs ascended in Greek politics to become the country’s third-largest party with 18 members in parliament. On Monday, the sun set on Golden Dawn, as it fell short of the 3 percent electoral threshold, leaving it with zero seats in parliament.
On election night, party leader Nikos Mihaloliakos insisted that “Golden Dawn is not finished.” He concluded his “concession” speech with his signature “Hail victory!” — a direct reference to the Nazis’ “Sieg heil.” An uglier exit could not be imagined.
Of course, Greece’s problems are not solved by this election. The country’s economy has been almost fatally weakened by an eight-year depression marked by a series of desperate bailouts, bank runs and the imposition of capital controls. The country appeared to be veering toward a cataclysmic Grexit; at the end of the tunnel was an economy reduced by 25 percent.
Tsipras’ attempt to stand up to the bankers and put an end to austerity plans was ill-fated. By September 2015, his Syriza party was forced to shelve some of its left-wing populism and implement further austerity and tax hikes to avoid economic meltdown.
Mitsotakis waves the banner of liberal reform. He promises privatization, and the remaking of Greece into a more business-friendly environment, a place for investors to come to rather than shun. He hopes that the new regime, even if only just started, will enable him to renew talks with the fiscal powers in Europe.
“I believe I can negotiate with the Europeans more fiscal space and the markets are showing that they are quite excited about us coming into power,” he said.
It is important, however, to note that the defeat of New Dawn was mitigated by the rise of the right-wing Greek Solution, which was projected to win 10 seats. A less extreme version of right-wing populism, it apparently took votes away from the New Dawn, and may not be much better. New Democracy also took a tough position on immigration that helped it to win broad support.
Nor, as Mihaloliakos said, his followers have not all gone away and they haven’t given up. If New Democracy fails to bring a measure of prosperity, and if austerity and uncertainty are not ended, the worst extremists could well make a comeback.
It is also well to remember that Mitsotakis comes from the Greek establishment. These are the folks who led the country into its economic quagmire in the first place. It remains to be seen just how far he can move them to the center when the time comes to actually implement reforms.
Meanwhile, there is another bright side to the news from Greece. Whichever way it came out, it would have been good for Israel, since both the outgoing prime minister Alexis Tsipras and the newly elected PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis are friendly to Israel.
Former Israeli ambassador to Athens Arye Mekel, currently with the Begin-Sa’adat Center in Yerushlayim, predicts “relations between the two countries are sure to improve as Israel has shown itself to be a more reliable ally to Greece even above the European Union.” The alliance has been manifest in, among other things, development of a natural gas pipeline from Israel and Cyprus to Italy through Greece.