The recent victory of the Greek New Democratic Party, led by Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Κυριάκος Μιτσοτάκης, Quiriácos Mitsotáquis) has been hailed as a landslide. In the election held in Greece on the 7th of July, the New Democracy party won an absolute majority. This is the first for the party since 2007.
The voting percentages though tell a different story to the headlines and the seat numbers. Mr Mitsotakis’ majority, although a personal victory for him, represents a mere 4% drop in the Syriza vote (35% before, 31% now). New Democracy’s vote share, in contrast, has increased from 28% to 38%.
Greece’s electoral system
Greece’s electoral system is a strange child of a proportional system with a majoritarian one. Two hundred and fifty seats are apportioned proportionally, with fifty seats being given as a bonus to the leading party. This means that a maximum of 40% is needed for a majority. This percentage is as bad as it gets. If there are parties that do not meet the threshold for entry into the voulì (parliament) a lower percentage can lead to a majority. The threshold for receiving seats is 3% and indeed, in this election, the far-right Golden Dawn party just missed it by 0.07%. And therefore received no seats.
The seats of the minor parties do not fluctuate greatly as they are determined proportionally. Instead, the existence of the “bonus” for the leading party means that the seats of the top two show the greatest fluctuation. Syriza’s share of seats dropped from 48.3% to 28.6% although its share of the vote only declined by 4%.
The shape of things to come
This is the last election to be held under this system. From the next election, the system will shift to a proportional one. This should alter the dynamics of Greek elections greatly, and it’s uncertain how the Greek voter will respond.
An important number to watch in order to understand the mood of Greek voters is turnout. It has been pretty stable compared to the September 2015 election to 2019, rising by 1% to 57%. Nevertheless, we should not fall into the trap of seeing this election as a sea-change in the attitudes of Greek voters. The movement of voters away from Syriza was relatively minor. It is movement of voters to New Democracy from other parties which sealed its fate. The weary Greek electorate did shift its preferences, just not dramatically as portrayed.
Nonetheless, the balance of power in the Voulì has shifted greatly. Greece’s electoral system has given New Democracy and Kyriakos Mitsotakis a strong position to pass the policies they choose to. It may be the last majority we see for a long time in Greek politics.