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Greek election: The austerity parties have collapsed. This is the moment of truth for the left

Yiorgos Vassalos looks at the extraordinary results of the Greek elections
May 2012

Syriza supporters celebrate on the streets of Athens. Photo: Adolfo Indignado Cuartero/Flickr

The parties that have ruled Greece since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974, the conservative New Democracy and centre-left Pasok, have collapsed. And the radical left in the form of Syriza has become the new second party in Greece.

This is unprecedented. There has only been one election since 1974 where one of the two main parties wasn’t able to gain a clear majority and form a one-party government. Between them, New Democracy and Pasok were polling between 70 and 90 per cent.

Now they have only got 33 per cent between them.

New Democracy has fallen from 33 per cent of the vote in 2009 to 19 per cent—from 2.3 million votes to 1.2 million.

And Pasok has collapsed even further, from 44 per cent to 13 per cent. It has gone from three million votes to just 800,000.

Two thirds of the Greek population now say in opinion polls that they oppose the eurozone loan agreements, and the austerity packages that come with them.

The political forces that support the agreements still get a bigger vote than this would suggest—40 per cent between New Democracy, Pasok, the extreme right Laos and extra-parliamentary liberal parties Action and Democratic Alliance.

There is a clear majority, though, for parties that campaigned in favour of the immediate cancellation of the loan agreements: a total of 44 per cent for radical left coalition Syriza, the right wing Independent Greeks, the communists of the KKE—and the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn.

Parties that only say they want to renegotiate the loan agreements, or don’t have a clear position—Democratic Left, the Greens, the liberal party Creation—scored around 7.5 per cent.

The rise of Syriza

Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, saw an extraordinary rise in its vote, from 4.6 per cent to 17 per cent.

It topped the poll by far in all the big cities—Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras—and in working class neighbourhoods elsewhere.

The party campaigned for the immediate cancellation of the austerity agreements, but also for Greece to stay in the eurozone. (It remains to be seen how it will pursue these contradictory objectives.)

The three radical left parties—Syriza, KKE and the anti-capitalist Antarsya—gathered 27 per cent of the vote between them.

The shock of Golden Dawn

At the same time, shockwaves were created by the huge jump in the vote of out-and-out neo-Nazi criminal gang Golden Dawn. They got 7 per cent—enough to enter parliament for the first time.

Meanwhile Independent Greeks, a split from New Democracy focused on opposition to immigration, got 11 per cent. The third extreme right party, Laos, got 2.9 per cent. That makes a total of 21 per cent for the far right, up from around 9 per cent in 2009.

We should also take note that New Democracy campaigned under the slogan “re-occupy our neighborhoods from the immigrant ghettos”—and Pasok supported the building of detention centres for immigrants.

Now what?

Greece’s electoral laws have demonstrated their absurdity by awarding the first party a bonus of 50 extra seats. New Democracy won 108 seats, Syriza 52, Pasok 41, Independent Greeks 33, KKE 26, Golden Dawn 21 and Democratic Left 19.

Each party, in order of size, has three days’ mandate to form a government. If it fails, the mandate passes to the next party for three days, and so on.

New Democracy and Pasok are calling for a broad, pro-EU coalition. Syriza insists on an unworkable left coalition without Pasok. Independent Greeks say they won’t cooperate with the ‘traitors’ of Pasok and New Democracy. And the KKE says it won’t cooperate with the ‘new social democrats’ of Syriza, who it says ‘spread illusions’. Meanwhile Democratic Left says it will support a government that begins a process of disengagement from the loan agreements.

The most likely outcome looks like Pasok, New Democracy and Democratic Left attempting to form a government when the mandate passes to the third party, Pasok.

Such a government would have a majority—168 out of 300 seats in parliament. But it would be politically very weak, because its backbone would be parties that were spectacularly punished by the popular vote. It would also mean a huge political cost for the third party in the coalition, whether that was Democratic Left or anyone else.

Syriza still hopes to convince Democratic Left and the KKE to support it, together with MPs willing to quit the New Democracy and Pasok parliamentary groups.

How Syriza deals with this process, and whether the KKE will abandon the failed tactics that cost it thousands of working class votes, will decide whether a front for people’s power can be formed—and the fate of the Greek left.

Antarsya, the anti-capitalist party which tripled its vote from 25,000 to 75,000, also has an important political role to play in this respect.

Yiorgos Vassalos is an activist and researcher with Corporate Europe Observatory.


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Michael Kenny 8 May 2012, 12.45

The election result was entirely in accordance with what the polls predicted. Percentages are all very well, but it’s parliamenatry seats that count and there, the present government has 149 seats, only 2 short of an absolute majority. Thus, the most likely outcome is the continuance of the Pasok-ND coalition, with a third party. At a guess, I would say Anel (“independent Greeks”) is the most likely. They are ND dissidents but opposed to austerity. Francois Hollande’s election means in practice that the austerity measures, which couldn’t be permanent anyway, are now going to be eased. That should give Anel enough room to join the government or at least support a minority government.
Although there is no contradiction between opposition to austerity and remaining in the eurozone, Syriza’s project is a pipedream. Syriza isn’t a party. It is a coalition of miniscule parties formed to get around the 3% barrier in the electoral law. Indeed, Dimar (“democratic left”) is itself a splinter group of one of the Syriza parties. Equally, the fascist mentality of the communists always clashes with the libertarian mentality of the far left and, as everywhere, the communists won’t join any coalition they can’t control and anything they can’t control, they try to destroy.
Thus, although the politicians of all shades will ham for the TV cameras and predict dire disasters if they don’t get their way, I don’t see any great problem in the election result.

Matt 9 May 2012, 05.11

@Michael Kenny

Referring to the KKE as having a “fascist mentality” is a bit inappropriate given the advance of the actual fascists of Golden Dawn, about whom you had nothing to say. Are they not a concern? Is this – and the far right vote in general, a “problem” in the election result? Did not PASOK experience a collapse? “Syriza’s project is a pipedream. Syriza isn’t a party. It is a coalition of miniscule parties formed to get around the 3% barrier in the electoral law.” So? It doesn’t look like a “pipedream” in the election results. New parties are forged from miniscule grouplets. It is the symptom of overcoming traditional fragmentation on the left in the face of a crisis.

The blinkered perspective based on the cynicism that nothing will change leaves one breathless.

The proper description of the KKE behavior is “sectarian”, not “fascist”. In the present situation it is they who are in danger of being destroyed if they maintain their self imposed isolation.

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