Election developments in Greece

The results of last weekend's European and Local elections have done little to change the political landscape of Greece. However, they are another sign of the fragmentation of the political scene.

Submitted by Thrasybulus on May 30, 2014

The first elections since two rounds of General Elections in 2012 have so far only continued the recent political stalemate. Despite months of preparation, Syriza were able to claim a win but not large enough to fulfil their promise of overturning the government. The coalition of New Democracy (ND) and Pasok (Pan-Hellenic Socialists) were happy that they didn't lose to badly. Meanwhile, Fascist Golden Dawn (GD) managed to increase their share of the vote and strengthened their position as the third party.

The results for the European elections:

Syriza 26.5%
ND 22.7%
GD 9.4%
ELIA(Pasok) 8%
To Potami ( The River, a new, slickly presented party of the centre)6.6%
Turnout 58%

In the local elections, Syriza won the governorship of Attiki, the country's largest region, but ND candidates won 7 of the 13 regions of Greece. Syriza were also unable to win the mayorship of Athens, losing out to the independent incumbent G. Kaminis.

The situation now is that the coalition government, whilst further weakened, still stands. Syriza currently have no constitutional ability to force a General Election, at least not until the new year. The government has slowly lost support since its election two years ago and is now hanging onto a narrow two seat majority in parliament. Every time a new set of austerity measures or reforms goes through parliament the coalition losses an MP or two. Losing this election will but further pressure on this fragile government. As a result there is likely to be an attempt to reconstitute the centre-left, formerly embodied in Pasok, perhaps focused on To Potami.

Syriza's election campaign focused on overturning the government. They counted on riding a wave of anger at the continuing crippling austerity to lift them to a position where they could demand the government calls national elections. Instead they remain largely dead in the water. It is true that this is their first election win with a massive increase in the vote compared to 2009. However, their popularity hasn't gone up at all in the last two years. Since the turn of the year they have been trying to focus people's attention on these elections, to the detriment of other, non-parliamentary, tactics. Yet they were unable to motivate enough people to secure the significant win they wanted. They remain the main opposition and leader of the rising forces but are not growing significantly despite the situation seemingly being in their favour.

The governing coalition is happy enough that its defeat was not the rout it could have been, and so, by electoral logic, was something like a win. ND and Pasok are the two parties which have governed inter-changeably since 1974. They are therefore held responsible by many for the current crisis. Whilst at the moment they survive in power, their grip is clearly weakening. Together they only just crossed the 30% mark, before the crisis their combined vote would have been something like 80%. They lost the governorship of Attiki, the province of Athens, which contains around a third of the country's population. The regional elections ND won are largely underpopulated dispersed areas. In addition, many candidates in the local elections didn't run under the name of either of these parties. They ran as independents since the ND/Pasok name is so toxic.

The government's campaign was centred on stability. As they did in 2012, ND/Pasok, backed by leading EU figures, claimed that anything less than their victory would plunge the country into default and chaos. This time round PM Samaras also claimed that the crisis is in fact over. In recent months there has been a big push to promote the idea that the crisis is over and Greece is saved, with the hero of the story being Mr. Samaras of course. He pointed to Greece's return to the bond market, simultaneously avoiding the bomb which blew up the Bank of Greece on the same day. Further evidence of Greece's recovery (the 'success story') was the achievement of a €1.5bn primary surplus. This surplus was created first by massive austerity measures, it isn't hard to run a surplus when you stop paying wages and health care etc, and second by some creative accounting which excluded €18bn given to the banks and counted some debts as assets. A chunk of this surplus was then given out to several thousand poor families in payments of between €500-1000 just a week before the elections. Of course the police received a significant cash pay out as well. So for the coalition and old regime of ND/Pasok they were able to survive by a combination of blackmail and bribery backed-up by a traditional patron-client voting relationship in the provinces.

The most ominous development in these elections is the continuing rise of Golden Dawn. Their showing of 9.4% was an increase from 2012 and is backed up by candidates in the mayoral and governorship elections in Athens receiving 16% and 11%. Despite the murders, beatings and clear Neo-Nazism at the heart of the party which has led several of its MPs to be either imprisoned or awaiting trail, they are still the third strongest party in Greece. Since the crackdown on the party last autumn, the media has been more open about reporting the Nazi ideology behind GD. Those who vote can no longer claim ignorance of what they are voting for. As with 2012, votes for GD roughly doubled at polling stations used by the police. The lesson from this is already known to all; we can not rely on the state to fight fascism.

And so here we are, as always with elections, in the same position we were in before them. This round of elections does in fact reflect the current situation in Greece fairly accurately. We see an old regime which continues to weaken but has not yet past away. A leftist parliamentary party which despite everything seemingly being in its favour, is unable to gather much enthusiasm. On the far-right we have an openly fascist party with a hard-core of rising support. All the while around 40% of people didn't vote in a country where by law voting is compulsory. The results fit into the wider European context but the main story is one of domestic fragmentation. The parliamentary landscape of Greece continues to shift and change. In which direction is still unknown.