Greece Elections: Call it a Comeback

European Parliament elections in May didn't go well for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as his radical-turned-mushy-left Syriza party was drubbed by the resurgent center-right New Democracy (ND) party by 9.3 points. The scale of the loss prompted Tsipras to call national elections early to staunch the political bleeding.

It didn't work. His party lost to ND and its US-educated, pro-market leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis this weekend by more than 8 percentage points; that's a large enough margin for New Democracy to secure a return to political power, as well as a comfortable majority in Greece's parliament.

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Some key points for consideration beyond the headlines you'll be reading this week:

This next one will be the most stable Greek government we'll see for a while. For years, one of the defining features of the Greek electoral system was the 50-seat bonus the first-place party received in Greece's 300-member parliament for, well, coming in first. The idea was that the bonus would help provide a political cushion for the governing party and the political space it needs to move its agenda forward.

But in 2016, Syriza abolished the 50-seat bonus, arguing that it's undemocratic (which has a certain logic to it). Changes to Greece's election laws must be grandfathered in though, so this round of elections kept the 50-bonus-seat system in place, and the next one will do away with it.

As it is, Greek governments have struggled to stay in power, particularly given the politically ugly choices they've had to make (this was the fifth snap election since 2012), and given the depth of Greece's crisis, plenty more tough decisions will be needed in the coming years. Structurally speaking, this new Mitsotakis-led government is looking like the last with any kind of political crutch to stand on.

The return of political protests? When Greece first started implementing austerity measures demanded by its international creditors (primarily the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, aka "the Troika"), it was beset by large-scale protests that caused millions in property damage in downtown Athens on a semi-regular basis. Those protests largely died down once Tsipras took office—his critics accused him of having been the driving force behind those original protests, while his supporters argued that the protests died down because the Greek people recognized they finally had a prime minister in Tsipras that was willing to fight for them.

It could also be that the Greek people just got protest-fatigue. Regardless, the return of New Democracy—one of the two establishment parties that first drove Greece into its current mess—has the potential to touch off the kind of political violence the country hasn't seen since Syriza took power in 2015.

The comeback kids. But if there's a bigger lesson for the world to take away from Greek elections this Sunday, it's this: even populist movements run out of steam. Syriza was one of the very first populist governments to come to power, though its electoral victory was mostly written off as a product of Greece's unusually dire circumstances rather than as part of a larger anti-Establishment movement rippling around the world.

Whatever the reason, Syriza was unable to deliver on its lofty promises of rolling back austerity measures and bending Brussels to its will. It's not enough to make promises; you also have to deliver.

And four years later, the Greek people decided to bring back the party in office before Syriza stormed to power (albeit one that's under new leadership).

It's a reminder that populism, like politics generally, is cyclical.

UPDATE: This text has been updated to reflect Mitsotakis' victory in the election.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.