What have been some of Greece's biggest election promises?

World Saturday 20/May/2023 16:14 PM
By: DW
What have been some of Greece's biggest election promises?

Athens: Georgios Papandreou, Greece's first postwar prime minister, once famously said that while making an election promise doesn't hurt, keeping it might.

Papandreou, the head of one of the country's most influential political clans, knew that the only way to get anywhere in national politics in Greece was to promise the electorate the Earth. It's become a tradition kept alive by many of his successors.

One particularly impressive example came in the run-up to the parliamentary election in 2012, which took place at the height of the Greek sovereign debt crisis. In a high-profile address on the national budget, opposition leader Alexis Tsipras promised to nullify the austerity dictates of the country's international creditors in a single day, with a single law — indeed, with a single paragraph. In short, Tsipras simply intended to ban austerity measures. Such fighting talk went down a storm with left-wing voters.

But things turned out very differently. After his election victory in 2015, the leftist Tsipras had to face the cold, harsh reality of his country's financial situation: He had no choice but to agree to new loans and austerity conditions.

Tsipras explained to the Greek parliament that the country had no alternative; the agreed program of reforms would have to be implemented. Any other course of action, he said, would lead to catastrophe.

Incorrect figures sent to Brussels
This does not mean Tsipras was responsible for the debt crisis. In the decades preceding his appointment as prime minister, Greece had been ruled by conservatives and socialists who had long been running up massive debts.

From 2004 to 2009 alone, conservative prime minister Kostas Karamanlis, a nephew of former premier Konstantinos Karamanlis, almost doubled the national debt while reporting incorrect figures to Brussels.

There was already speculation about the likelihood of Greek bankruptcy while Kostas Karamanlis was still in power. Nevertheless, just before the parliamentary election in 2009, his finance minister, Giorgos Alogoskoufis, assured the public there was no need to worry: Greece was well-equipped to deal with the international financial crisis, he said. This also turned out to be another empty campaign pledge.

'The money is there'
Around about this time, George Papandreou — whose father and grandfather before him had also been prime minister — enjoyed a boost to his popularity in opinion polls.

He, too, made big promises about social reform, pledging to distribute wealth in the country more evenly in his first 100 days in office. When asked by a journalist how he intended to pay for this pledge, Papandreou gave the now legendary reply: "The money is there" ("Lefta Yparchoun").

A 'titanic struggle' against bankruptcy
Papandreou went on to win an absolute majority in the election. But once again, the voters did not get what they were promised. Shortly after taking office, the socialist prime minister announced the start of a "titanic struggle" against his country's impending bankruptcy.

The rest is history: Papandreou asked the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for financial assistance and in return, agreed to austerity measures that saw Greece's economic performance shrink by over 30%.
Promise of cheaper cars

Other recurring themes in Greek election campaigns are cheap loans and tax relief. One classic in this respect is the pledge made by the conservative opposition leader Constantine Mitsotakis in the run-up to the parliamentary election of 1985.

Mitsotakis — father of the current Greek prime minister — promised to drastically cut taxes and customs duties on cars so that every family would be able to afford a new car. In the 1980s, Greece's socialist government levied massive taxes on imported industrial products in order to protect Greece's industry and fill the state's coffers. This was possible at the time because the European single market had not yet come into force. At the time, a German mid-range car was completely out of reach for many families in Greece.

Mitsotakis hoped this pledge would once more make his party appeal to hard-working middle-class voters. But the ruling socialists responded with a campaign slogan that mobilized young voters in particular: "Better ride a moped than vote Mitsotakis!" Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou scored a clear victory in the poll and was reelected for a second term.

A Stasi fake?
Another reason for this resounding victory was, however, "negative campaigning," which reached a historic peak during this particular campaign. Four weeks before the election, the pro-government newspaper Avriani printed a photo from World War II that showed a young Mitsotakis socializing with two German Nazi officers.

The photo caused a scandal, especially as Mitsotakis had been a member of the resistance and had been imprisoned as a result.

The conservatives cried foul and accused the socialists of forgery and fostering political conspiracy. But the damage was done.

It was only in 2016 that Athens-based investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis reported that the Nazi allegations against Mitsotakis had been fabricated and that the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, had been involved. All Greek media outlets considered this version of events to be plausible. But what did the Stasi have to do with the ruling socialists in Athens at the time? That question remains unanswered to this day.