The coming weeks will naturally see an emphasis on New Democracy’s proposals on all the major issues, from the economy and security, to education and health. At the same time the new prime minister will have to strike a balance between the rival forces within his party’s ranks, combining the new with the old.
However, there is one more factor that will determine the new administration’s fate. It relates to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ ability to forge a sense of unity and social peace. The years of the financial crisis saw extreme rhetoric and behavior across the political spectrum, and society was split into pro- and anti-bailout camps.
During this past decade, we have seen political rivals trade accusations, calling each other traitors and liars. We saw indignant protesters hold Parliament under siege. We saw deputies being attacked by angry mobs.
The old political system is to blame for the structural problems that bedeviled Greece for 35 years and eventually dragged it to bankruptcy. But SYRIZA bears most of the blame for the last decade. SYRIZA’s aggressive, divisive discourse in the early years of the crisis, the vulgar attacks against its “Merkelist” political opponents and class-driven polarization on the level of rhetoric and actual policy after it climbed to power, left serious scars on the social fabric.
The crisis – with the rampant increase in unemployment, the closing of thousands of businesses and the extensive brain drain – enabled certain politicians to play the patriotic card. Poisonous confrontation and hatred prevailed.
Mitsotakis will have to overcome political rivalries and personal bitterness to convey, with persistence, a message of common sense, unity and moderation. If we want more decency, consensus and understanding in the public arena, it is the prime minister who will have to take the first step. He will have to convince his supporters and, more importantly, his opponents, that he is acting in earnest.
The New Democracy leader need not look very far for a useful example. His father, former prime minister Constantinos Mitsotakis, left a precious political legacy in his pursuit of common sense, understanding and consensus. Sure, the late Mitsotakis was not perfect. He made mistakes, many of which he acknowledged later on in life. He led the conservative party for nine years, and despite a difficult election law, he managed to score three successive election victories, garnering a huge share of the vote.
He often spoke uncomfortable truths. During his lengthy political career, he turned out to be ahead of his time on many crucial issues, including on the economy and national security. His main weapons were his composure, moderation and ability to combine different ideas and work with historical foes.
Drawing from this legacy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis should carve out his own path in the economy and other areas that are crucial to the country’s growth and prosperity. However, his overarching goal as prime minister of all Greeks must be to unite the people. Greece is too small and it lies in too complex a neighborhood to have the luxury of shooting itself in the foot. There is simply no room for strife and division.