Europe

Vangelis Meimarakis: New Democracy leader takes Greece back

Vangelis Meimarakis Image copyright AFP
Image caption Vangelis Meimarakis was first elected as an MP for New Democracy in 1989

Part of Greece's political establishment for decades, Vangelis Meimarakis is everything voters rejected when they backed Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party in January's election.

The interim New Democracy leader, 61, represents the old way - serving for years in centre-right governments accused by the left of bringing painful austerity and institutionalised corruption.

But after months of political strain, exhaustive bailout negotiations and continued economic despair, Greece is seemingly starting to regret its flirtation with the new.

According to latest opinion polls, Mr Meimarakis is now challenging Alexis Tsipras, Greece's youngest prime minister in modern times, for first place in this month's elections.

Commentators say he is a voice of economic stability, who has successfully unified his party to make a comeback.

Founding member

Born in Athens in 1953, Vangelis Meimarakis's family were from Crete and his father was an MP in the island's main city Heraklion.

He trained as a lawyer at the University of Athens, and became involved in student politics while studying public administration at Panteion University.

He was one of the founding members New Democracy's youth wing (ONNED).

First elected as an MP in 1989, he was ND's chief whip from 1991 to 1992 and served as defence minister from 2006 to 2009.

He is married to Joanna Kolokota, daughter of Greek actress Nitsa Marouda, and they have two daughters.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Vangelis Meimarakis says there is still a risk of Grexit with Mr Tsipras in charge

Mr Meimarakis became speaker of the Greek parliament in 2012, briefly standing down that year amid a corruption scandal involving an inquiry into money laundering allegation.

He strongly denied any wrongdoing and returned to his position soon after, remaining as speaker until early 2015.

Fortunes turned

A strong supporter of keeping Greece in the eurozone, Mr Meimarakis was appointed interim leader of New Democracy in July 2015 after the resignation of Antonis Samaras.

Mr Samaras stepped down after voters backed Mr Tsipras in a bailout referendum by a bigger-than-expected margin.

New Democracy looked fragile - without the figurehead who had led the party for six years, and trailing Syriza by a wide margin in the opinion polls.

But a few months later, its fortunes seem to have turned.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The ND leader has accused Mr Tsipras, right, of mismanaging the economy and pushing the country towards another recession

Analysts say Mr Meimarakis has managed to unite ND in his short time at the top, sidelining some of its right-wing elements in an effort to woo centrist voters.

And the polls are looking up too - Syriza and ND now appear to be neck-and-neck ahead of the snap election on 20 September.

Haunted by associations

Mr Meimarakis has accused Mr Tsipras of mismanaging the economy and pushing the country towards another recession - a tactic that has boosted his approval ratings at his rival's expense.

He has repeatedly painted the former PM as a "pampered child" - calling him "kiddo" and "a little liar" - while painting himself as a picture of experience and stability.

But his association with the discredited old political elite continues to haunt him.


Vangelis Meimarakis

  • Born in Athens in 1953
  • Trained as a lawyer
  • Founding member of New Democracy's youth wing
  • Former defence minister and parliament speaker

During the first televised leaders' debate on Wednesday, Mr Meimarakis had a heated exchange with Independent Greeks head Panos Kammenos, who accused him of being embroiled in a suspicious submarine deal during his time as defence minister.

The ND leader responded by accusing his opponent of acting as a proxy for Mr Tsipras, Mr Kammenos's one-time coalition partner.

Occasionally criticised for being sharp-tongued, Mr Meimarakis says he is just being spontaneous and honest.

"I'm not fake. I've been in politics for a long time and, if you want me, that's good. But if you don't, it's no big deal, we're still friends," he told Star TV on 7 September.

'Co-operation'

This long political past may still prove troublesome for him.

But in recent weeks Mr Meimarakis has managed to align his party with voters' current concerns.

In an interview with Bloomberg television, Mr Meimarakis described as "disastrous" Mr Tsipras's decision in late August to hold snap elections and demanded he give an explanation for "this adventure".

The Syriza leader has ruled out forming a coalition with any of his rivals.

Mr Meimarakis, meanwhile, says he is prepared to work with Syriza in order to implement the bailout measures with Greece's international creditors.

For him, the need now is for "consensus and co-operation".

This month's election result will show whether voters agree.

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