Mitsotakis: the PM who steered Greece from brink to growth

Greece is enjoying a rare respite from economic instability under Kyriakos Mitsotakis – Copyright AFP/File Yuichi YAMAZAKI


Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose party scored a thumping win at Sunday’s election, is a conservative political dynasty scion credited with putting the debt-ridden country back on the path of growth.

Mitsotakis has offered his country a rare respite from economic instability in the face of unprecedented global upheavals like the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine.

But a damaging wiretapping scandal and public anger arising from a deadly train crash in February blighted the record of Mitsotakis, whose family has dominated Greek politics for decades.

The former Harvard graduate who worked at US financial consultancy McKinsey will be tasked by Greece’s head of state President Katerina Sakellaropoulou with forming a government.

But he has signalled that he will seek a new election, likely in a month’s time, in order to obtain an absolute majority to govern alone.

First elected lawmaker in 2004, Mitsotakis had been at the helm of his New Democracy party for three years before he took Greece’s top job in 2019.

The 55-year-old had then triumphed over Tsipras on a promise to fix Greece’s broken economy.

He insists he has no problem taking on the “dark state of anachronism” — as minister of administration reform from 2013 to 2015, he carried out rounds of painful layoffs in the public sector as part of the austerity deal.

Eurogroup head Paschal Donohoe last month said the outgoing PM leaves behind “a healthier economic outlook, stronger economic foundations than any previous government has had in some time”.

– Netflix and mountain bikes –

Born in Athens in 1968, Mitsotakis hails from a Greek political dynasty. 

His father Konstantinos Mitsotakis was prime minister from 1990 to 1993. His sister Dora Bakoyannis was Athens’ former mayor and an ex-minister, while her son is the capital’s current mayor.

Tall, slender and uptight, Mitsotakis, usually sports a white or light blue shirt, ditched ties on the campaign trail and courts selfies with teens in an effort to appear personable.

But he is awkward around crowds, and has struggled to shake his elitist reputation.

An enduring image of Mitsotakis from his years as a technocrat has him seated at his office with an uppity look, gingerly holding an espresso cup whilst reading a newspaper.

But with nearly 440,000 youth votes at stake, the conservative leader has taken to posting behind-the-scenes clips from his campaign on TikTok.

One is titled ‘bad hair day’, and there are copious shots of the prime minister’s official pooch, adopted stray Peanut.

He says he dreamed of becoming a basketball player, idolises his entrepreneur spouse, and watches the Netflix hit “Emily in Paris” to relax.

At the onset of the pandemic, Mitsotakis initially earned plaudits for keeping a lid on virus deaths.

But he caused outrage at the height of a strict lockdown imposed by his government, when photos emerged showing him and his wife on mountain bikes in the company of other bikers on Mount Parnitha, 45 kilometres from Athens.

He caused further anger by posing with five of the men — none wearing masks despite the requirement to do so outdoors — which prompted his critics to blast him for “arrogance”. 

– Recovery and growth –

But Greece’s remarkable economic recovery from the crippling impact of the pandemic is a valuable shot in the arm for Mitsotakis.

Although the country lost out on its vital tourism revenues during the pandemic, Greece came back with growth hitting 8.3 percent in 2021 and 5.9 percent in 2022.

That was helped in part by over 57 billion euros dished out by the government to cushion the impact of the pandemic and inflation. 

At the same time, analysts note that Mitsotakis had licence to spend under the EU’s more relaxed pandemic-era rules.

With the vulnerabilities of the health sector cruelly exposed during the pandemic, Mitsotakis has promised to significantly invest in the national health service.

Also among his mantra are tax cuts for large properties, a smaller public sector and boosts in investment incentives for private enterprises.

– Border fence –

But on social issues, he straddles liberalism with his backing for LGBTQ rights in a deeply religious country, while also seeking to win over the conservative base with a tough line on migration.

On the campaign trail at the border with Turkey, he vowed to extend a 37.5-kilometre (23-mile), five-metre-high steel fence to contain the inward migration flow.

The illegal wiretapping scandal targeting journalists and political figures including socialist leader Nikos Androulakis had been a blow on his record.

Following anger over the deadly train crash of February 28, with critics slamming successive governments for under-investment in the railway, he has also vowed to correct the problem.

Mitsotakis: the PM who steered Greece from brink to growth
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