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The far right’s gains in the Greek election, briefly explained

Several right-wing parties walked away with some surprising — and troubling — wins.

People stand around a booth of the far-right party Spartiates (Spartans) showing a portrait of ultra-nationalist Ilias Kasidiaris, in a square in the southern Greek city of Kalamata, on June 25, 2023.
Far-right political parties gained seats in Greece’s Parliament, like the Spartans, backed by ultra-nationalist Ilias Kasidiaris.
AFP/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Conservative and far-right politicians saw significant wins in the Greek election this past weekend, victories that could mean the continuation of harsh immigration policies and a renewed focus on economic growth in the southern European country. The election, which keeps the center-right New Democracy party in power, suggests that Greek voters remain driven by fiscal stability, and that right-wing leaders may have a growing foothold in the European Union.

The conservative New Democracy Party won by a landslide, and has secured 158 of 300 Parliament seats, according to the latest projections. The outcome guarantees Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a scion of a powerful Greek political family who campaigned on raising wages and reducing unemployment, a second term in the role. New Democracy ultimately trounced its largest competitor, the left-wing Syriza Party, taking nearly 41 percent of the vote to the opposition’s 18 percent.

Additionally, three smaller far-right parties saw gains of their own — reflecting a trend seen in recent years across Europe. A newly formed party called the Spartans — backed by Ilias Kasidiaris, the imprisoned spokesperson of the outlawed neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn — was able to win more than 3 percent of the vote, guaranteeing it 13 seats in parliament. Niki, a religious party that’s known for opposing Covid-19 vaccine efforts, and Elliniki Lysi, or Greek Solution, a far-right populist party, also won enough votes to get their own seats.

Another term of center-right New Democracy leadership is expected to build on economic inroads the country has made in the wake of an extended financial crisis. Mitsotakis has said he’s dedicated to restoring the country’s credit rating, spurring the economy by making borrowing cheaper and pushing for more foreign investment. His victory came despite a recent tragedy that claimed dozens of migrant lives in a boat wreck, a train collision that killed nearly 60, as well as a scandal involving the wiretapping of opponents and journalists. Along with his focus on the economy, Mitsotakis has embraced hardline migration policies, including a border fence, after Greece became a central hub for migrants looking to escape war and unsafe conditions in the Middle East.

“Our goals are high and must be high in a second term that can transform Greece with dynamic growth rates that will raise wages and reduce inequalities,” Mitsotakis said in a post-election speech.

The margin of New Democracy’s win means it won’t need to partner with any other groups to advance its agenda. But that Spartans and other far-right groups, who campaigned on nationalist and nativist rhetoric, will be in Parliament has some observers concerned about a hard right turn among a segment of the Greek voter base.

“There is a surprising resilience there,” says the Atlantic Council’s Katerina Sokou. “I would say there is a small percentage of Greeks that aspire to ideas and are flirting with Neo-nazism, whether they realize it or not.”

The enduring draw of the right in Greece

The June election had slightly lower turnout than a prior election in May: 52 percent of voters participated compared to 61 percent in the earlier one. That’s one caveat to keep in mind about the outcome, Sokou notes.

In May, Mitsotakis’s party still won the majority of votes, with about a 20 percent lead on Syriza, but did not win an absolute majority. Due to a new rule that gives extra Parliament seats to the party that wins a second round of voting, New Democracy was able to get that majority with ease this time around.

Niki and Spartans also benefited from the second round of voting, going from 0 seats each in May to 10 and 12 seats, respectively. Their performance was perhaps the most striking part of the June contest, and Spartans’ success was especially surprising given their recent founding and controversial backing from Kasidiaris.

Kasidiaris is currently serving a 13-year prison term after he was convicted for leading Golden Dawn, an organization that engaged in racist and xenophobic rhetoric while perpetuating violent street attacks on migrants and left-wing political figures. The Spartans are also viewed as another configuration of Golden Dawn, which saw one of its other successor parties banned from elections by both the Parliament and the Greek Supreme Court due to its criminal ties and the threat it posed to democracy.

Golden Dawn rose to power after the global financial crisis in 2009, and has long been anti-immigrant, pushing for mass migrant deportations. Golden Dawn and its allies weren’t able to secure Parliament seats in 2019, but June’s race effectively marks their return, at least in spirit.

Migration has proven to be a salient issue in Greece since 2015 and 2016 when over a million migrants traveled to the country, due to military conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

“We need to understand why a country which was traditionally leaning to the left gave 35 seats to the far right and what can be done to bring voters back to the center without compromising forward thinking and liberal values,” Stella Ladi, a political scientist and associate professor at Queen Mary University in London, told the Associated Press. “This is something very worrying, even shocking. This a dark time for Greece,” Akritas Kaidatzis, an associate professor at Aristotle University, told NPR.

The resilience of the far right in Greece has also been evident across Europe, a sign that such views still persist more broadly in the region as it continues to grapple with challenges involving immigration. The far-right anti-immigration Finns Party also made inroads during the Finnish election this past spring, and the alt-right Alternative for Deutschland party won its first local election Sunday after securing about 10 percent of the Bundestag in the last national elections. The upcoming election in Spain, set for July 23, will be the next test of how strong the far right’s influence is in Europe.

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