On an exhaustive tour of Greece’s blue collar towns and city suburbs, Kyriakos Mitsotakis has a spring in his step. It’s no wonder – he’s the overwhelming favorite to become the country’s next prime minister as the unlikely heir of a powerful political family.
Arriving at Lavrio, an old factory town near Athens, residents form a cluster of welcome next to a seafront cafe. Mitsotakis steps out of his car and switches into casual campaigning mode, crouching to chat to children, greeting young men with an arm-wrestle handshake, hugging pensioners, and using his height to snap cellphone photos.
He chooses a microphone over a podium and in less than 10 minutes hits the highlights of why he thinks voters should back his conservative New Democracy party: Greece, he argues, needs to embrace a pro-business culture after a decade of economic turbulence, fix its law-and-order problems, and continue making its once heavily over-staffed state bureaucracy more efficient.
A crowd of around 50 people listen politely, eager to get another chance to meet the man strongly favored to win in Sunday’s general election.
The 51-year-old Mitsotakis heads to the election with a big lead in opinion polls over left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has led the country for the past four years as Greece struggled to bring an end to its crippling financial crisis and financial dependency on others, as well as cope with a massive refugee crisis — more than a million people arrived on Greece’s eastern islands in 2015-16 in dinghies and unsafe boats before trying to make their way to the more prosperous countries of central Europe.
“I want to make Greece a normal European country,” Mitsotakis told the AP, his ease with English reflecting a decade of studying in the United States at Harvard University and Stanford.
“I’m sick and tired of us being treated as the poster boy for the crisis.”
He’s not alone in that wish.
Greece has just struggled through one of its biggest crisis since World War II. Forced to seek an international bailout in 2010, Greece’s economy shrank by a quarter and unemployment had spiked to over 25 percent — double that among the young. Protests and riots became a feature of Greek life. Many were blamed for the hardship from political parties — including Mitsotakis’ predecessors at New Democracy — to Greece’s bailout creditors who demanded severe cutbacks in return for their financial help to Athens.
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