In the May 6th Greek elections, the established ruling parties, the conservative New Democracy and the socialist PASOK were punished, unable to form a government. The voters blamed them for Greece’s debt crisis, and for destroying the country in their attempts to address the crisis.
The subsequent general elections of June 17 led to a flood of attention in the international media and blatant foreign intervention due to their potential economic implications for the Euro currency zone and the global economy. Observers were concerned that a Greek exit from the Euro would have a catastrophic impact on other ailing European states, damaging the US and the entire global economy. There was an unprecedented campaign orchestrated by the Eurocrats, the German government and the German media, which amounted to the blackmailing of the Greek electorate to vote against the parties that want to end the draconian austerity and neoliberal policies.
E.U. officials disregarded the norm of neutrality concerning an independent national election and expressed their opinion about their preferred outcome of Greeks’ vote, threatening “Grexit,” i.e., forcing Greece out of Euro zone, if the radical left wins. The intervention crescendo came on the eve of the election with an open letter of Germany’s Bild newspaper to Greek voters. The tabloid warned:
“Tomorrow you have elections but you do not have any choices….If you don’t want our billions, you are free to elect any left- or right-wing clowns that you want…For more than two years, though, your ATMs are only issuing euros because we put them there. If the parties that want to end austerity and reforms win the elections, they will be breaching all agreements and we will stop paying.”
But it was not only threats by the media and the Euro-area governments. After the May election results, part of Greece’s next aid payment (1billion Euros) was postponed as a warning to Greek politicians and voters to stick to the austerity program.
Repeated Eurocratic interventions over the month before the election of June 17 implied a deep disapproval of potential choices by free citizens. This began in February, when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble made the incredible suggestion that Greece should hold off the election and allow the interim government led by the banker Lucas Papademos to stay in power. This revealed a neoliberal German and European Union leadership that has become scared of democracy, unable to deal with the uncomfortable realities that elections can produce.
The foreign led “Grexit” campaign was combined with a domestic “Drachmageddon” terrorist campaign that propagated the notion of total catastrophe if Greece were to go back to the Greek national currency the Drachma, orchestrated by the media with close relations with the corrupt ruling parties of New Democracy and PASOK.
Those of us who have studied foreign interventions in Greece in the past can’t recall such a blatant foreign interference, with its effective co-ordinated scaremongering. As a result, the elections on June 17th produced a vote of fear to avert a bleak Greek future, superseding the vote of anger against the corrupted political system of the elections of May 6th.
It is also crucial to note that the great majority of Greeks has repeatedly expressed in polls and also on May 6th elections in favor of the Euro, though clearly against the “memorandum,” i.e., the draconian austerity bailout program, enforced by the troika, EU, IMF and ECB. That is why the Eurocrats and the Greek ruling forces tried and succeeded to transform the elections of June 17 into a referendum about Euro and not about the memorandum. Angela Merkel herself had called the Greek President to suggest the official transformation of the election into a referendum in favor of the currency. Hence, scaremongering campaigns for “Grexit” and “Drachmageddon” defined the June 17th elections to be a de facto referendum on Greece’s future with the Euro, between leftist Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza Party, which opposes the terms of the country’s latest bailout, and its conservative rival, Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party, which largely supports the bailout program, the ND with PASOK together are the “ancient regime.” Nonetheless, while the June election amounted to a referendum on whether Greece would become the first country to be forced out of Euro, it is quite certain that if a real referendum about the austerity bailout program, the vast majority of suffering Greeks would have voted against it.
The elections results
After all these orchestrated campaigns, on June 17, the conservative New Democracy (ND) came in the first place with 29.66%, from 18.9% in the previous vote, getting 129 seats in the parliament, including 50-seat bonus that goes to the leading party. The leftist SYRIZA jumped to 26.89% from 16.8%, holding 71 seats. It is followed in third place by the socialist PASOK, which fell to 12.28% from 13.2%, now holding only 33 seats, down from 157 in 2009. The newly formed nationalist populist party of Independent Greeks which managed to get 10.6% in May is now in fourth place with 7.51% votes and 20 seats. Unfortunately for the Greek democracy, Golden Dawn came in fifth. This extreme neo-fascist party, with members who have been linked with violent attacks on African and Asian immigrants, maintained its power 6.92% (7%) and occupies 18 seats, down from the 21 it elected in May. The moderate “Democratic Left” came in sixth, with 6.26% (from 6.11%) and 17 seats. Last, in seventh, was the Greek Communist party KKE, which only got 4.50% (down from 8.5% in May) and 12 seats, refusing any cooperation with SYRIZA.
The polarization of voting between ND and SYRIZA squeezed small parties like the Ecologist Greens, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and “Drasi,” which this time all fell well short of the 3 percent threshold needed for them to enter Parliament. A new abstention record was reached, 37.53%, higher than the 34.9% in May. About half of the young voters between 18-29, suffering from 50% unemployment, voted for SYRIZA, and those over 60, fearful pensioners and women over 55, voted ND for staying with the Euro.
Hence, Greece’s second national elections produced a narrow victory for the conservative New Democracy by 2.4 percentage points over leftist SYRIZA. However, Mr. Samaras of the New Democracy party, who declared that “Athens would honor its commitments” made in exchange for rescue loans from the EU and IMF, has only 129 of Parliament’s 300 seats, and lacks enough MPs to govern alone. He sought allies among his traditional rival, the pro-bailout PASOK, which came third, and the small Democratic Left party, which, while opposing the country’s harsh austerity program, has declared it will help to form a strong government. So, these three parties managed to forge a pro-euro and pro-bailout coalition government, backed by 179 out of 300 MPs.
The ND narrow victory, the coalition government and the real winner
Antonis Samaras was sworn in as prime minister of a three-party coalition government promising to uphold Greece’s international bailout commitments. Samaras two coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, have decided not to provide MPs for cabinet positions.
The real election winner is, though, in my judgment, SYRIZA, which saw its percentage of the vote rocket from less than 5 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in May to 27 percent in June. SYRIZA has made clear that it will not take part in any government or national negotiation team for a better memorandum. SYRIZA, with the anti-austerity wind in its sails, will be a powerful opposition force, insisting that the memorandum lacks popular legitimacy, having been effectively annulled by the strong anti-austerity vote in May. Mr. Tsipras, campaigning to reject the bailout terms and yet keep Greece in the euro, repeatedly stressed his party’s commitment to the common currency. To defend against the conservative pro-Euro arsenal, he eschewed any reference to radical positions the party holds on repudiating the national debt or nationalizing the banks.
In my view, unlike its name as a Coalition of Radical Left, SYRIZA is by no means a communist radical movement; this is clear to the well informed American administration and media, which were not polemically against its leader Alexis Tsipras. SYRIZA, like the initial PASOK in the 80s under Andreas Papandreou, is a leftist reformist, multi-group coalition, attracting mostly young people, the leftist intelligentsia, and the now state dependent middle strata, which has been disappointed by PASOK. SYRIZA can play a modernizing role against the corrupted political system, similar to the role played by PASOK in 1981 against the prolong right wing rule. In its effort to be able to form the next government after a predicted failure of the present pro-bail out government, SYRIZA will be transformed into a governmental party, obliged to abandon its leftist radicalism, and gradually, like the PASOK governments, will disappoint its leftist followers. Rather than victory now, 38 year old Tsipras very well may be happier to emerge as a formidable and strengthened opposition leader, waiting for his leftist movement to become mature as a governmental party in order to succeed the coalition government’s predestined failure and short life.
Post elections assessments and prospects
The June elections has temporarily enabled Greece to avoid “Grexit” and “Drachmageddon,” and relieved the EU leaders with the formation of a pro-austerity government. One could argue that it is another temporary win for the Ancien Regime, which will just encourage Greece overlords to be more draconian. A government made up of the same political parties carrying the burden of the same old sins is incapable of resolving the Greek crisis. Without substantial European help, it will collapse soon.
In my judgment, if SYRIZA had won, it by no means would have resulted in a Armageddon for Greece and EU; because such a victory would have triggered drastic economic and political changes in Greece and in Europe more broadly. Europe’ s leaders, and Germany’s in particular, would have been forced to find the resources and imagination to reform the euro zone and advance the European integration.
Unfortunately to this point, following the election, Germany, IMF and the EU continue to demand that Greece honors the terms of the crucifying bailout that unrealistically assumes a quick economic recovery despite draconian austerity and crushing debts. Germans sadistically insist that Greece must continue take its disciplinary medicine – a 25% fall in GDP, collapse in living standards and youth unemployment of 50% – and pursue a neoliberal reform of its economic structures. For Germany, Greece’s draconian disciplinary austerity experiment is providing important lessons for other southern European “PIIGS.” But even if Grexit and losses of the Greek debt might be containable, what would not be containable is the fear among member states such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy that their countries could suffer the same fate as Greece.
After the financial problems in Portugal, Ireland and now in Spain, it is obvious that the Greek crisis is not endemic and its cause is not the unruly Greeks. We have seen how many weak links there are in the European chain, which have nothing to do with Greece. As famous American economists, notably including Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, have argued, the origins of crisis that is tearing Greece apart, and threatens to spread across Europe, can be found in the deeply flawed European monetary system. There must be a wholesale redesign of the EU economic structure. This and not the destruction of the Greek economy is the answer to the crisis.
Will the new Greek government be offered further forgiveness of its foreign debts, a moratorium on further cuts in the social wage and an opportunity to stimulate the economy with a range of infrastructure projects financed by European funds? Greece and Southern Europe need something closer to a Marshall Plan than more austerity, but the German neoliberal government and its northern partners refuse to acknowledge this. Instead, they will continue half-measures and moralistic lessons that have resulted in the destruction of the Greek economy and society, and which have grown to present a threat to EU as a whole.
The revival of the parliamentary left in France, Italy and Greece, plus the sorely needed, from the point of view of Greece and Europe, re-election of President Obama in the U.S., bring some hope for a developmental turn against the irrationality of austerity in the European crisis and democratic reforms in the European Union. The concept of a unified Europe has been shaken to the core. If the Greek election serves as a wake up call and has promoted a recognition of a necessary change of course, it will be a real democratic win for the people of Europe, and beyond.