Elections in Greece: repercussions of rage by Herkül Millas*

Elections in Greece: repercussions of rage by Herkül Millas*

A protester shouts slogans during a May Day protest in Athens on May 1, 2012. (PHOTO AP)

May 10, 2012, Thursday/ 18:20:00

Some people are pretty pleased with the most recent election results in Greece. For the first time, the far-right Hrisi Avgi Party (Golden Dawn) has won seats in Parliament, receiving a surprising 7 percent of the vote in last week’s Greek elections.

The Golden Dawn is the most extreme far-right party in Greece. Its supporters are enjoying this winning moment. Nikoaos Michaloliakos, chair of the party, which places particular emphasis upon nationalism, in his first press statement, said: “Beware! We are coming,” and further questioned the patriotism of the media and of other parties.

The Independent Greeks Party led by Panos Kamenos is also pleased with the results, with 10.5 percent of the vote. This party was set up a few months ago by those who left the center-right New Democracy Party. The new party was created in opposition to the austerity plan, which was devised by the troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank. The party’s discourse is also based on extremism. They perceive the West and the neighboring countries -- particularly Macedonia and Turkey -- as sources of major problems. Kamenos frequently draws attention to the danger posed by aliens, the West which allegedly undermines the national interests of Greece, and particularly the Germans.

The far-right People’s Orthodox Rally (LAOS) led by Georgios Karatzaferis, which was represented in Parliament until the 2012 elections, however, is not satisfied with the results. It failed to pass the 3 percent election threshold. This is seen as the price for their support of the austerity plan offered for Greece’s economic recovery.

Parties that are pleased with the results include those in the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), which displayed a surprising performance by receiving 17 percent of the vote, and in turn being ranked second in the overall standing of the parties. Its main policy is to remain within the EU but to reject the memorandum issued by the troika. The young leader of the coalition, Alexis Tsipras did not make it clear how to achieve this. What he implied was that the coalition would stand against the EU plan so that the troika would not insist on the implementation of the plan. The political standing held by the Independent Greeks Party is similar to this position: Yes to the EU, no to the memorandum. For this, the troika needs to say, “Let us forget about the memorandum and make resource transfers to Greece.” But this does not seem likely.

The Democratic Left, which received 6 percent of the vote in these elections, could be included in the list of political groups that prefer remaining within the EU without paying the bill. This party, founded two years ago, is also pleased with the election results. The Communist Party, which preserved its popular support with 8.5 percent of the vote, declared its satisfaction with the outcome. The view of this party is clear: It promotes separation from the EU and dismisses the idea of any sort of alliance with the other parties. In other words, the left, which represents 31 percent of the popular vote, is opposed to the memorandum. (It should be noted that 35 percent of the registered voters did not go to the ballots, which means the votes the parties received should be reduced by one-third to calculate actual popular support.)

As for the disappointed...

And of course some parties are disappointed with the election results. The two center parties which have ruled the country for decades experienced a grave defeat in the election. Both took part in the implementation of the memorandum. Even if they form a coalition government, they will not be able to secure a majority in the 300-seat parliament. Their deputies number 108 and 41, respectively. (The New Democracy Party won 50 extra seats because of its first-place finish). The three liberal parties should also be included in the list of parties displeased with the election outcome. Dora Bakoyannis’ Democratic Alliance, Stefanos Manos’ Action-Liberal Alliance and Thanos Tzimeros’ ReCreate Greece party failed to pass the 3 percent election threshold (2.6 percent, 1.7 percent and 2 percent, respectively).

These three parties promoted the same argument: that the memorandum should be observed in order to remain within the EU and the euro currency; in other words, harsh measures and structural transformation are inevitable. Despite strong efforts, the three parties failed to make a pact, most probably out of personal ambitions, and in the end the liberal political line was left out of parliament.

This overall outlook is not promising for Greece. There are two major problems going on in the country. Above all, it is now hard to form a majority government. Theoretically, it is possible that the New Democracy, PASOK and maybe the Democratic Left parties could form a coalition. However, even if this is achieved, they will need to make tough decisions on economic measures in the days to come; it is doubtful that the Democratic Left will extend support to the implementation of the memorandum. But the actual problem is different. The total popular support for those who opposed the memorandum is above 50 percent. In particular, leftist forces control the unions. These forces, which have prevented the structural transformations envisaged in the memorandum through street demonstrations and strikes, have become more popular. Following the elections, the legitimacy of the supporters of the memorandum has come into question. This suggests that force may be used as an instrument outside parliament. In other words, it is doubtful as to whether a government will be able to rule the country effectively.

In addition, it also seems that there are problems with the relations between Greece and the EU. There will be problems within the EU if Greece decides not to implement the austerity plan. It is not easy for European politicians to convince their voters to finance Greece through further taxes. Leniency in the implementation of the plan will attract the attention of countries experiencing similar problems, including Ireland, Portugal and Spain, which would likely make similar requests. It does not seem possible for the EU to change its policy at the moment.

The EU and the IMF are already signaling that they are determined to insist on the implementation of the plan. There is almost no room for changes to the set of measures. There is a big difference and disagreement between the opponents of the memorandum and the troika. While the Greek political actors and society believe that the memorandum is the main cause of the ongoing problems, the EU considers it the outcome of the crisis.Holding early elections is not seen as a plausible solution. An early election will most probably make the opponents of the memorandum stronger. It is also possible that the crisis will get out of control because if an agreement is not made with the troika, the financial aid needed to address the budget deficit may be blocked or suspended. And if this happens, the state may not be able to pay salaries.

Since respect for the Greek people’s preference is a requirement of democracy, the possibility of such an option should not be viewed as unlikely. In such a scenario, it is also possible that Greece will leave the euro and issue its own national currency in order to pay state salaries. But, of course, Greece will not be able to pay its debts and receive loans from external sources. And this will exacerbate the overall economic crisis. In other words, the final word will come from outside the country and the EU will have to make a decision on how to proceed with respect to Greece.

*Herkül Millas is a political scientist.