You’ve probably never heard of Evangelos Meimarakis.
But given Greece’s ability to punch above its weight in terms of international headlines, you may well be hearing his name a lot very soon.
That’s because based on current polling, he’s got a good chance of being Greece’s Prime Minister after the September 20 election.
From 2006 to 2009 Meimarakis was defence minister, and he took over from former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as the leader of centre-right New Democracy earlier this year.
What’s more, unlike incumbent Alexis Tsipras, he wears a tie. A Bloomberg interview with Meimarakis outlines what he’d like to see if he wins. Both leaders would back the existing bailout deal.
A New Democracy win seemed practically unthinkable a few months ago. Tsipras rode high in the polls and the centre-right party was reduced to a shadow of its former self.
But now a similar process is happening to Syriza. Far-left members split from the party, forming a group called Popular Unity, and since Tsipras has agreed to the country’s third bailout deal, it’s harder now to see what a Syriza vote is for.
New Democracy is not as popular as it was even in 2012, when former PM Antonis Samaras won 29% of the vote, and is barely half as popular as it was as recently as 2007, when it swept up over 40% of the electorate.
But Greek politics is increasingly fractured. The latest poll shows just half a percentage point gap between Syriza and New Democracy, with Tsipras’ party on 27% and Meimarakis’ on 26.5%. A result below 30% may well be enough to come first this time.
And in Greek politics, coming first is extremely important. The electoral system gives the winning party another 50 seats in parliament, a massive advantage when it comes to forming a coalition.
Take a look at the charts below, from Deutsche Bank:
You can see on the right-hand chart that New Democracy’s increased chance of winning is largely down to the decline of Syriza, though the conservative party has become a little more popular in its own right.
On the left hand chart you can see that 50-seat bonus. Syriza’s aggregated results in recent polls give it a narrow lead of just a couple of percentage points, but that translates into 57 seats. Some of the more recent polls have ND actually winning.
After the election, New Democracy may also have another advantage: Tsipras is walking a confusing line on post-election coalitions. Initially he ruled out most of his potential coalition partners: ND, centrist To Potami and centre-left PASOK were all off the table.
More recently he’s been suggesting that the onus will be on the centrist/centre-left parties to join Syriza’s government. Here’s a snippet from Greek newspaper Kathimerini:
Tsipras appeared to put the onus on PASOK and Potami to join a coalition between SYRIZA and the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) even though opinion polls consistently suggest that ANEL will not re-enter Parliament.
“What are they going to do, leave the country without a government?” he said of the smaller parties.
Most of the rest of the parliament, which will likely be made up of the unreconstructed Greek communist party and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, is off limits in terms of building coalitions. PASOK were already coalition members under New Democracy’s previous government, and To Potami’s leader has suggested there could be new elections if Syriza win on September 20.
It looks like Greece’s radical left-wing government, which has already had its wings clipped pretty severely by the realities of European politics, could be a brief experiment.
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