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Trump’s stimulus obstruction excites fiscal conservatives — and no one else

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In a frenetic series of tweets sent on Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump shut down congressional negotiations over future stimulus relief in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He tweeted, “I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” adding, “THE BEST IS YET TO COME.”

Economic hell broke loose. The stock market dropped in reaction to Trump’s tweets. And while Trump attempted to walk back his tweets and urge Congress to make a deal airline payroll support and stimulus checks — sort of — White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein that negotiations were off for good, with White House adviser Larry Kudlow saying that it was “too close to the election” for talks.

A second stimulus package to help Americans and small businesses get through the economic recession caused by the pandemic is absurdly popular with voters. Trump, on the other hand, is not. But rather than help get a stimulus package deal done by urging Senate Republicans to support it, Trump walked away, perhaps for good.

And while fiscal conservatives with concerns about the growing deficit may be cheering, Trump’s populist supporters — and many other voters — are very much not.

What exactly is Trump doing?

As my colleague Li Zhou has detailed, stimulus negotiations between Republicans, Democrats, and administration officials have been “months of on-again, off-again” discussions. Talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had ramped up over recent weeks, but those conversations had stalled over specifics on state funding levels. Meanwhile, voters want a deal done, now.

When asked what the Senate should prioritize, 65 percent of survey respondents said the body should focus on passing legislation to address the economic and health impacts of Covid-19, compared to 22 percent who said the same about advancing a Supreme Court nominee. The survey included 827 adults and was fielded the week of September 22…

In a mid-September survey from Financial Times/Peterson Foundation of 750 battleground voters, 91 percent of respondents said Congress needs to pass another coronavirus stimulus and 41 percent of those surveyed blame both parties for the delay. Presently, the need for more stimulus is significant: More than 26 million people are still claiming some type of unemployment benefit, according to a weekly Labor Department report, and more than 100,000 small businesses so far are estimated to have closed permanently during the pandemic.

It’s no wonder, then, that some conservatives reacted to Trump’s decision to halt stimulus negotiations with confusion. Why, as Fox News’s Guy Benson asked on Twitter, was Trump deciding to take the blame for the end of negotiations for much-needed stimulus funds himself, rather than blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?

Other conservatives argued the same. If the deal is a giveaway to blue states as some assert, why not put the pressure on Democrats in red states and swing districts to come to the table on negotiations? Why not make this a story of Democrats refusing to compromise to the detriment of American voters? In short, why make this “mindbogglingly insane” decision as conservative writer Henry Olsen put it, instead of doing almost anything else?

But HotAir.com writer Allahpundit pointed to a wider theme, as exemplified by this decision and much of Trump’s recent rhetoric — since when did Donald Trump, who beat the “fiscally conservative” Republican candidates back in 2015 and 2016, give in to their rhetoric?

As others are noting in reacting to the news, what’s inexplicable about this is that Trump won the primaries four years ago partly because he wasn’t the sort of Republican who’d try to starve federal programs in the name of fiscal responsibility. President Ted Cruz might slash your Medicare but President Donald Trump didn’t even pretend to care about shrinking government. The fact that he’s trying to lowball Pelosi on financial aid to voters in dire need of it 28 days from an election, in the middle of a pandemic, is an invasion-of-the-body-snatchers moment — as if Cruz and the Republican establishment had secretly replaced him with an impostor more conducive to Paul Ryan Republicanism.

Trump gives in to Senate-style Republicanism

Trump lost interest in the populism he voiced back in 2016 soon after the election, choosing instead to favor Republican economic orthodoxy championed by GOP stalwarts (but largely unpopular with actual Republican voters).

Even before the pandemic, there was comparatively little Republican voter support for cutting federal spending on health care and education. Before “Infrastructure Week” became a long-running joke, it was a Trump campaign promise, one with high levels of support from Republican voters. And that hasn’t changed — according to Fox News polling conducted earlier this month, 57 percent of Americans want more assistance from the federal government, not less.

That clear shift is indicated by Trump’s economic advisers, including former Club for Growth president Stephen Moore and supply-side economics enthusiast Arthur Laffer (famous for the discredited Laffer curve, which posits tax cuts pay for themselves in growth).

According to the Washington Post, Laffer told Trump last week not to approve a stimulus, and Moore told White House officials that a stimulus would be unhelpful for Trump’s reelection prospects as results would likely not show until after November. Moore championed anti-shutdown protests early in the pandemic, believing that simply “reopening the economy” would boost Trump’s reelection chances.

I spoke to Moore back in July about stimulus negotiations, and he told me then that extending unemployment benefits would doom Trump’s campaign. But, I asked, what about the GOP’s short-term prospects? Couldn’t the party then say, “we stood with workers when they needed us?”

He responded that sending more money would induce people not to work, thus dooming the economy:

“First of all, sending money to people is not a way to stimulate the economy. … It’s very simple, you cannot get people back to work if you’re paying people more not to work than to work, period. And so that is why it’s pretty obvious that if Trump were to agree to extend those employment benefits through the end of the year, we don’t get an economic recovery. And under that case, how can Trump possibly win? He could win, but it makes it really difficult if the economy is in a severe recession in November.”

He added later, “We have to get the economy reopened. That’s obviously the single most important thing is we’ve got to get rid of all the lockdown orders. And then you’ve got to get rid of the unemployment benefits to get the people back on the job.”

This isn’t just Moore and Laffer. Fiscal conservatives have been arguing against additional stimulus for months. Back in July, Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Ben Sasse were hitting back at Mnuchin and “Trumpers” for supporting stimulus payments.

Republican economic orthodoxy may stand against additional stimulus payments — particularly to Democratic-leaning cities and states — but American voters, who include residents of those cities and states, do not. Job gains have slowed, and the number of permanent layoffs has risen, meaning that millions of Americans are facing down economic ruin while the Trump administration waffles on stimulus payments. That’s not simply an election issue, that’s an American problem.

I asked a conservative pundit what he thought Trump was doing on this issue. He replied, “losing.”


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‘Sick to my stomach’: White women who voted for Trump turn on him

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Nancy Shively has voted for every Republican presidential nominee since 1976. Her first vote in a presidential election went to Gerald Ford. In the late 1980s and early 2000s, she cast her votes for both Presidents Bush – George H W and George W. And in 2016, she voted for Donald Trump, even though she said she was “never a big fan”.

“I think what got me voting for him in 2016 was the fact that I have been a Republican my entire life,” Shively, 63, told Al Jazeera. “So there was the weight of all that.”

But this year, Shively said she cannot hold her nose and vote for Trump again. When she casts her ballot, it will be for the first Democratic presidential nominee to ever earn her support: Joe Biden.

Shively, an Oklahoma native, is among the growing number of white women who voted for Trump in 2016 but refuse to do so this year. The reasons for their shift vary from Trump’s values to his rhetoric to his actions in and outside the White House. But their sentiment is largely the same: Trump as president has made the United States worse off, and they fear what four more years could bring.

Shively said the final straw came while watching the president at the White House coronavirus briefings earlier this year.

Some women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 regret doing so, and now plan to support Democratic candidate Joe Biden, according to polling [File: Jonathan Drake/Reuters]

“Really seeing in living colour … his personality on display, it was just so clear to me how relentlessly narcissistic he is and how he was trying to pawn off responsibility on the governors instead of doing it himself,” she said.

For Shively, the threat of the coronavirus pandemic is particularly dire: her autoimmune diseases put her at higher risk of complications if she were to contract COVID-19.

“When I voted for Trump, I didn’t know I was [potentially] signing my own death warrant,” she said. That’s why during one of those briefings, she hopped on her iPad and changed the party affiliation on her voter registration to “Independent”.

Kris Searcy’s feelings of regret came several years earlier. Like Shively, Searcy said she was not a big fan of Trump in 2016. In fact, she said she felt “disgusted” voting for him, but she also had serious misgivings about then-Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

“I thought Trump would just sit back,” the Kentucky native told Al Jazeera. “I didn’t think he would be involved in anything. I thought he would get a lot of really smart, intellectual conservatives to come in.”

Day one of his presidency, however, revealed just how wrong she had been, Searcy said. “When I heard his inauguration speech, I just felt sick to my stomach,” she recalled.

“I knew that none of those things that I thought were gonna happen,” she added. “I just had this sinking feeling at that moment that we would maybe never again be united.”

Biden solidifying support

Although the majority of women voters cast their ballots for Clinton in 2016, the former Democratic candidate lost – albeit by a small margin – to Trump among white women. But recent polling suggests that support for Trump may be shrinking, and because women have historically been more reliable voters than men, even a small shift could make a difference in who wins or loses in November.

Women have outvoted men in every presidential election since 1980, said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics. That is why in the broad sense, “it matters to get the support of women,” she explained.

When I heard his inauguration speech, I just felt sick to my stomach.

Kris Searcy, voted for Trump in 2016

Women voters overall favour Biden by 11 points, according to an in-depth poll conducted by All In Together, a non-partisan civic education organisation, Lake Research Partners and Emerson College Polling between August 30 and September 1. Other polls put the margin even wider.

Women voters historically vote in higher numbers than men, making them a key demographic for candidates to court [File: Bing Guan/Reuters]

Such support is especially visible at the issue level. Women voters trust Biden to handle race relations, the coronavirus pandemic, the reopening of schools, and law and order by double-digit margins, the All In Together poll found. The former vice president is also trusted more than Trump on economic recovery, albeit by a smaller margin (51 percent to 43 percent), according to the same poll.

“What has really emerged, and has shifted over the course of the year, is just what huge pluralities of women across virtually every demographic oppose the president and support Joe Biden,” said Lauren Leader, the co-founder and CEO of All In Together.

“You’ve definitely seen pretty significant solidification of Biden’s support from women across almost … every demographic group,” Leader said, pointing to Biden’s support among Black women, women under 30 and Latino women, as well as Independent women voters.

“And then when you go to the women who have been sort of most contested in a sense, which are the suburban women, [Biden] has really solidified support with suburban women as well,” she added.

Suburban white women – a key demographic

Michele, who lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, is among that demographic. The 42-year-old, who asked to be identified by only her middle name, said that while she considers herself an Independent, she has always voted for Republican presidential candidates.

When it came to the 2016 election, she did not like either candidate, but felt that Trump, at least, showed his cards.

“I definitely remember describing Trump as the snake in the grass you could see, and Clinton as a snake in the grass you couldn’t see,” Michele told Al Jazeera.

Michele said that while she did not watch the news often during Trump’s first few years in office, she had a “growing unsettling feeling” as she heard about some of his policies, including the travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries and the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

Really seeing in living colour … his personality on display, it was just so clear to me how relentlessly narcissistic he is and how he was trying to pawn off responsibility on the governors instead of doing it himself.

Nancy Shively, voted for Trump in 2016

The tipping point came when she realised her father believed the pandemic was a “hoax” created by Democrats to remove Trump. As someone who works at a hospital, Michele knew the coronavirus was not “a red or blue issue,” and that no matter who the Democrats nominated, that candidate would get her vote.

Democrats and their supporters have focused much of their efforts on reaching suburban women like Michele.

In the battleground state of North Carolina, for example, Austin Cook, the state’s Democratic Party communications director, said suburban women have been a top priority for the party’s outreach and engagement.

“All public and internal polling shows these voters are turned off by Trump’s rhetoric and platform, which is why engaging them has been a top priority for us since we began building our Democratic coordinated campaign in 2019,” Cook told Al Jazeera.

I like the stuff that he does, not necessarily what he says or how he acts.

Sherry Lynn Womack, Women for Trump North Carolina director

This includes focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and healthcare, some of the top issues for women. Biden also chose Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American woman on a presidential ticket, as his running mate.

On the other hand, it is clear that Trump’s “law and order” messaging is also targeting his suburban white women base. He has falsely blamed low-income minority groups for “ruining this American dream” for everyone in suburbia.

But amid reports in a shift in white suburban woman’s loyalties, Trump has taken what appears to be a more desperate tone.

“Can I ask you to do me a favour, suburban women? Will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighbourhood, OK?” Trump said at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania last week.

While commentators argue such racist – and outdated –  rhetoric is not playing well with suburban women, data from All In Together show that Trump maintains support among non-educated white women, a key demographic.

Oversized role?

Non-college educated white women “who are with Trump have been his solid stalwart base,” said All In Together’s Leader.

Women voters could be the key to either candidate’s victory in November [File: Gabriela Bhaskar/Reuters]

That is true across a spectrum of issues as well. For example, even though women are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic when it comes to the economy, childcare responsibilities and other issues, many – with college degrees or not – who support Trump do not blame him or see him as being able to have made a difference, Leader said.

Sherry Lynn Womack, a retired Army lieutenant and the director of Women for Trump North Carolina, blames governors – particularly her Democratic governor – for the current economic state of the country. It is a sentiment she said is felt by many of those who make up the Women for Trump-NC group, which is not directly affiliated with the Trump campaign.

“It’s hard for me to blame a president for something that comes out from a governor,” Womack, 57, told Al Jazeera, referring to policies that closed local businesses and kept children from physically going back into the classroom to combat the pandemic.

Womack said that she does not always like what comes out of the president’s mouth, but she does like the promises he has kept, including moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his appointment of conservative judges.

“I like the stuff that he does, not necessarily what he says or how he acts,” she explained.

What has really emerged, and has shifted over the course of the year, is just what huge pluralities of women across virtually every demographic oppose the president and support Joe Biden.

Lauren Leader, All In Together CEO

According to Leader, women who make up Trump’s base, particularly non-college educated white women, may again play an oversized role in this election as they did in 2016.

“The whole dynamic in American politics right now is this question of the tyranny of the minority: that you could have this small … not representative group of women, as they did in 2016, flip the election for Trump, because they’re his base and they are heavily represented in critical Electoral College states,” Leader said, referring to battleground states.

That is why turnout is everything, she added, and why both Republicans and Democrats are not taking suburban women for granted.

For women like Shively in Oklahoma and Searcy in Kentucky – both from traditionally Republican states – their hope is that they will play some role in a larger fight to get Trump out of office this year.

“The important thing is we are all working toward the same goal now,” Searcy said. “I don’t owe anyone an apology for how I voted [in 2016] – that’s what’s great about this country – but I do owe it to everyone to not make the same mistake in 2020.”

Editor’s note: The All In Together survey examined 1,273 registered women voters nationwide with a +/-2.75% margin of error. The survey also oversampled 668 registered women voters in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania with a +/-3.8% margin of error. The oversample was weighted down to reflect their actual proportion of women voters. 

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The ‘Caspian Sea Monster’ rises from the grave

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(CNN) — Beached on the western shores of the Caspian Sea, it looks like a colossal aquatic beast — a bizarre creation more at home in the deep than above the waves. It certainly doesn’t look like something that could ever fly.

But fly it did — albeit a long time ago.

After lying dormant for more than three decades, the Caspian Sea Monster has been on the move again. One of the most eye-catching flying machines ever built, it’s completing what could be its final journey.

In July of this year after 14 hours at sea, a flotilla of three tugs and two escort vessels maneuvered slowly along the shores of the Caspian Sea to deliver their bulky special cargo to its destination, a stretch of coast near Russia’s southernmost point.

It’s here, next to the ancient city of Derbent, in Russia’s republic of Dagestan, that the 380-ton “Lun-class Ekranoplan” has found its new, and most likely definitive, home.

The last of its breed to sail the waters of the Caspian, “Lun” was abandoned after the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union, condemned to rust away at Kaspiysk naval base, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) up the coast from Derbent.

But before it could fade into oblivion, it’s been rescued thanks to plans to make it a tourist attraction right at a time when this unusual travel concept could be poised to make a comeback.

Speed and stealth

The 380-ton

The 380-ton “Lun-class Ekraonoplan” has moved for the first time in 30 years.

Musa Salgereyev/TASS/Getty Images

Ground Effect Vehicles, also known as “ekranoplans,” are a sort of hybrid between airplanes and ships. They move over water without actually touching it.

The International Maritime Organization classifies them as ships, but, in fact, they derive their unique high-speed capabilities from the fact that they skim the surface of the water at a height of between one and five meters (three to 16 feet).

They take advantage of an aerodynamic principle called “ground effect.”

This combination of speed and stealth — their proximity to the surface while flying makes them difficult to detect by radar — got the attention of the Soviet military, which experimented with several variants of the concept during the Cold War.

Their deployment on the vast inland body of water between the Soviet Union and Iran led to them acquiring the nickname “Caspian Sea Monster.”

The “Lun” ekranoplan was one of the last designs to come out of the Soviet ground effect vehicle program. Longer than an Airbus A380 superjumbo and almost as tall, despite its size and weight, the Lun was capable of reaching speeds of up to 550 kilometers per hour (340 mph) thanks to eight powerful turbofans located on its stubby wings.

This formidable machine was even able to take off and land in stormy conditions, with waves of up to two and a half meters. Its intended mission was to conduct lightning sea-borne attacks with the six anti-ship missiles it carried in launch tubes placed at the top of its hull.

Star attraction

I love it when an ekranoplan comes together.

I love it when an ekranoplan comes together.

Musa Salgereyev/TASS/Getty Images

The ekranoplan that has been moved to Derbent is the only one of its class ever completed and entered service in 1987.

A second Lun, unarmed and assigned to rescue and supply missions, was at an advanced state of completion when, in the early 1990s, the whole program was canceled and the existing Lun withdrawn from service.

After 30-plus years of inaction, getting this sea beast back on the move was no easy task, requiring the assistance of rubber pontoons and a carefully coordinated choreography involving several vessels.

“Lun” will be the star of Derbent’s planned Patriot Park, a military museum and theme park that will display different sorts of Soviet and Russian military equipment.

Construction of the park is expected to start later in 2020. For the time being, Lun will sit alone on the beach.

It looks set to become a new highlight for visitors to Derbent. The city claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Russian territory. Its citadel and historical center have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Second wave

The sea beast was powered by eight powerful turbofans.

The sea beast was powered by eight powerful turbofans.

Denis Abramov/Sputnik/AP

“Lun” will add to the attractions of a region that, up until the coronavirus pandemic, had seen a number of initiatives to open it up to tourism, including the launch of cruise itineraries in the Caspian Sea.

When it opens, Derbent’s Patriot Park won’t be the only Russian museum exhibiting an ekranoplan. A much smaller Orlyonok-class ekranoplan can be found at the Russian Navy Museum in Moscow.

While ground effect vehicles fell out of favor in the past few decades, the concept has been experiencing a resurgence of late

Developers in Singapore, the United States, China and Russia are working on different projects that aim to bring ekranoplans back to life, although with rather more peaceful purposes.

widget works

Singapore-based Wigetworks is hoping to create a modern version of the ekranoplan.

Courtesy Wiget Works

One of them is Singapore-based Wigetworks, whose AirFish 8 prototype builds upon groundwork done by German engineers Hanno Fischer and Alexander Lippisch during the Cold War.

Wigetworks acquired the patents and intellectual property rights and have set about trying to improve and update those earlier designs to create a modern ground effect vehicle.

Also in Asia, Chinese ekranoplan Xiangzhou 1 flew for the first time in 2017, although little is known about this project.

Delivery drones

flying ship company

The Flying Ship Company is developing an unmanned ground effect vehicle.

Courtesy Flying Ship Company

In the United States, The Flying Ship Company, a startup backed by private investors, is working on an unmanned ground effect vehicle to move cargo at high speed. Think unmanned delivery drones but over water.

The project is at its early stages, although founder and CEO Bill Peterson tells CNN his team is planning to bring this project to fruition within a seven-year timeframe.

And Russia, home of the ekranoplan, hasn’t given up on the concept.

Several projects have been touted during the past few years, although none has managed to make it past the design stage yet.

Beriev, a maker of jet-powered amphibious aircraft, came up with the Be-2500 concept, and, more recently, it has been reported by Russian media that a new-generation military ekranoplan, tentatively named “Orlan,” was under consideration.

Another, privately funded, project has sprung out of Nizhny Novgorod, an industrial city on the banks of the Volga River closely connected with the origins of ekranoplan technology. RDC Aqualines, which has also offices in Singapore, is developing its own line of commercial ekranoplans able to carry three, eight and 12 passengers, and might possibly expand to more.

Its designs have caught the eye of a group of entrepreneurs which aims to establish a fast link across the Gulf of Finland, connecting Helsinki to the Estonian capital, Tallinn, in about 30 minutes.

It might be that soon you won’t need to visit a museum to spot an ekranoplan, after all.

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Greek court imprisons far-right Golden Dawn party leadership

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Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos says he is proud to be going to jail for his ‘ideas’, and will be ‘vindicated’ by the Greek people.

A Greek court has ruled to imprison the leadership of the far-right Golden Dawn party following their convictions for running the party like a criminal organisation but granted suspended sentences to five of the party’s 18 former legislators who were convicted of lesser charges.

The decision by a three-judge panel on Thursday came after two weeks of summations by defence lawyers following the prosecutor’s recommendation that all former Golden Dawn legislators be allowed to remain free pending appeal. The appeals process could take several years.

The judges rejected a request to suspend the sentences of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other former legislators who were convicted of leading a criminal organisation.

Michaloliakos and another five former legislators received 13-year prison sentences, while a sixth was sentenced to 10 years.

The party, founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, rose to prominence during Greece’s financial crisis and was blamed for planning multiple hate crimes including brutal street attacks of immigrants and left-wing activists.

“I am proud to be going to jail for my ideas. Some people at some time will be ashamed for taking this decision,” Michaloliakos told reporters outside his Athens home after the court decision was announced. “We will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people.”

Others sentenced to jail include former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has since left Golden Dawn and founded his own political party, and current European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, who also left Golden Dawn and currently lives in Brussels.

The defendants were not obliged to be in court for the hearing. Arrest orders will be issued for any of those ordered to be imprisoned who do not turn themselves in, voluntarily.

Eleven former Golden Dawn legislators convicted of simple participation received sentences of between five and seven years. The judges ruled five of those convicted of participation, including Michaloliakos’s wife, Eleni Zaroulia, could remain free until their appeals are heard.

Conditions of their release include bans on leaving the country, the payment of 20,000 euros ($23,700) bail each and the appearance at their local police station twice a month. Seven more people convicted in the case who are not former Greek legislators also received suspended sentences pending appeal.

The sentencing decisions end a marathon, politically charged five-year trial involving 68 defendants, dozens of lawyers and encompassing four cases, including the 2013 fatal stabbing of left-wing Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas and physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen and left-wing activists.

A total of 57 party members and associates were convicted on October 7, mostly for involvement in violent attacks and participating in a criminal organisation.

The Golden Dawn legislators spent 18 months in jail when the trial first began and were released due to the limit of pre-trial detention being reached.

Golden Dawn spent decades as a fringe party on the Greek political scene. But it rose to prominence during the country’s 2010-2018 financial crisis, winning Parliament seats in four separate elections and becoming Greece’s third-largest political party.

Its popularity began to wane during the trial, and it failed to win any Parliament seats in the 2019 general election.

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