Obituary: Constantine Mitsotakis, former Greek prime minister renowned for free-market reform

Former Greek prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis
Former Greek prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis
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Constantine Mitsotakis, former Greek prime minister. Born: 18 October, 1918 in Hania, Crete. Died: 29 May, 2017 in Athens, Greece, aged 98

Constantine Mitsotakis, a former Greek conservative prime minister remembered for his fierce confrontations with liberal and socialist parties as well for backing free-market reforms, has died at 98.

Mitsotakis, father of the current conservative Greek opposition leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was today being buried in his hometown of Hania on the island of Crete. His body lay in state at Athens Cathedral on the eve of his funeral.

Mitsotakis served as prime minister between 1990 and 1993, a brief spell during two decades dominated by his Socialist rivals.

Born in Hania on 18 October 1918, Mitsotakis was the nephew of liberal statesman Eleftherios Venizelos and was first elected to Parliament in 1946.

He served in several Cabinet posts, including finance minister, in liberal governments in 1951-52 and 1963-65. In 1965, he led a group of dissidents who abandoned George Papandreou’s liberal Center Union government following its clash with King Constantine II over control of the armed forces – a decision for which most liberal critics never forgave Mitsotakis. The meteoric rise of Andreas Papandreou, George’s son and a US – educated economist who had returned to Greece in the early 1960s, was widely seen as a factor in Mitsotakis’ split with the party.

The resulting political crisis and nearly two years of unstable government in part prompted army colonels to carry out a coup in 1967.

Mitsotakis was arrested along with other politicians at the start of the seven-year military dictatorship. He later lived in exile in Paris until shortly before the junta collapsed in 1974.

Mitsotakis emerged as the main adversary of Andreas Papandreou, who founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement in 1974 rather than head his father’s old party and then defeated the conservatives in a 1981 landslide.

Mitsotakis narrowly won in 1990 after the Socialists became entangled in a financial scandal and votes in 1989 twice produced a hung parliament.

Governing with a one-seat majority in Parliament, Mitsotakis’ government was brought down by conservative dissenters in 1993, condemning New Democracy to spend the next 11 years in opposition.

The leader of those dissenters, Antonis Samaras, was eventually welcomed back into the party and defeated Dora Bakoyannis in a leadership contest after the conservatives lost the 2009 election. Samaras served as prime minister from 2012 to 2015, in coalition with the Socialists.

Two of his children followed him into politics. Mitsotakis’ eldest daughter, Dora Bakoyannis was mayor of Athens during the 2004 Olympic Games and later was foreign minister from 2006-2009 in a New Democracy government. Her husband, Pavlos Bakoyannis, a conservative politician, was shot dead in 1989 by the far-left Greek terrorist group November 17.

Mitsotakis lived long enough to see his youngest child and only son, Kyriakos, elected as leader of New Democracy in January 2016. Mitsotakis is also survived by two other daughters and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife, Marika, died in 2012.

DEMETRIS NELLAS