Greek elections: The debacle of austerity or of reason?

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The results of the Greek elections. Uncertainty prevails. Image source:

The national elections in Greece on May 6, 2012 brought seven parties in the parliament. The first feeling one gets is that of uncertainty about the future. Five out of the seven parties have a clear anti-austerity, anti-memorandum agenda, while ND, the party with the most seats claims that it wants to “renegotiate” the terms of the bailout programme. Given that no single party has secured a majority of seats in the parliament, a coalition of forces is necessary to form a government. However with the diversity of views now represented in the new parliament, such a coalition will be hard to find, while there can be no safe predictions about a possible government agenda for the time being.

The first observation one can make is that almost 35% of the voters did not turn out to cast their vote. In times like these this can either be interpreted as a sign of disgust and anger towards the political system that brought the country to this position, or as a sign of ignorance, complacency and indifference. I hope it is the former, though I cannot rule out the possibility that the latter holds true.

The second observation, is that the two traditionally dominant parties of the conservative ND and the social-democratic PASOK have suffered major loses in terms of the percentages they enjoyed in previous years, when they could easily secure a majority of seats. Now they have received roughly a third of the votes they used to get. Their bipolarity that governed Greece ever since the fall of the military junta in 1974 is now over. In my view this is a positive sign. The Greek people seem to have realized that the graft and corruption unearthed by these two parties can no longer be tolerated, at least not to the same extent. The next step will be to see the exemplary punishment of all those who were responsible for bringing the country to this position.

The third observation, is that nationalism and populism were rewarded. The neo-nazi party, Golden Dawn, won almost 7% of the share. Though I understand that many of the citizens casted their vote out of anger and despair and that they are not ideologically aligned with the agenda of this party — a programme replete with misplaced beliefs, outright lies, hatred speech and racist shibboleths — I still consider it a disgrace and a scandal for democracy and for the democratically orientated citizens of Greece to have given such power to a clearly undemocratic, totalitarian party. I am much afraid about this rise of extreme nationalism and I dare say that history has offered us highly unpleasant examples of how a totalitarian regime can come out of a parliamentary system. The democratic citizens of this country, regardless of political preferences must remain vigilant and close their ears to the sirens of hatred, xenophobia, europhobia and self-destructive nationalism.

The fourth observation I have to make is the persistent sectarianism that characterizes the Greek left. Apart from the rise of SYRIZA, which became the second party, we see KKE, the communist party not willing to make any kind of compromises to a broader leftist agenda; while on the other hand we witnessed a massive failure of the Ecologists/Greens to find a common programme with the Democratic Left (DEMAR), so that they could both gain out of it. Instead we are seeing a sectarianated left, which has yet to come to its senses about the real situation in the country. Unfortunately many in the broader Greek left have long now fallen into reveries about some promised good life outside the EU or the Euro; and instead of proposing tangible solutions to the dead-end of the troika programme, they insist on unrealistic proposals that will at best create laughter to the European partners and to all those who still put logic above sentiment and ideological delusions. I am much disappointed of the Greek left, for its inability to stand up to the task of being a truly progressive power of reform. I remain reserved nonetheless, to see how SYRIZA will use the substantial share of the vote it won. I wish they do not channel it into the familiar arid oratory of promising everything and offering nothing. We shall soon find out.

The fifth observation is that no coalition government can easily derive out of the existing setting. While theoretically the broader right (ND-Independent Greeks-Golden Dawn) could come up with a coalition, in practice this is impossible for two reasons. Firstly the Independent Greeks are led by Panos Kamenos, an ex-ND deputy who resigned from his former party when ND supported the memorandum with the troika. Kamenos, said after the results of yesterday’s elections that he will not cooperate with “traitors” – he was of course referring to ND. The second reason is that Golden Dawn is clearly anti-EU and they will never agree on a programme that will support the memorandum with the troika or indeed any EU-oriented agenda.

Moreover a ND-PASOK coalition does not secure a majority in the parliament, which means that a third party will have to come in. Theoretically this could be either SYRIZA or DEMAR, but in practice this would scarcely happen, given that SYRIZA and DEMAR are clearly against the memorandum with the troika. This means that a coalition will be hard to find, while its power will be very fragile and could easily break up as soon as the troika demands further budget cuts and other stringent austerity measures – which they will do in two weeks time and then during the summer.

Finally I would like to point out the preposterous law that offers 50 seats out of the total 300 to the first party. This is the most anachronistic, undemocratic law in the books and needs to be removed immediately. If you see the image I included above, you will realize that ND has almost 50 seats more than SYRIZA, when in truth their margin was roughly 2%. Such undemocratic alchemies do not help in bringing all the voices of the people in the parliament, such as those of the Environmentalists/Greens and the Liberals. A truly pluralist system cannot cartelize the parliament.

Given all the above, I believe that there is a lot of uncertainty around Greece. There is a possibility that no government will be formed, which will lead to another election. In the meantime, all this political bungling works to the detriment of the domestic economy, as businesspeople do not know what kind of economic regime they will have to face in the weeks and months ahead. Will publicly owned enterprises be privatized? Will banks be nationalized? Will taxes increase further? Will capital controls be set in place? Will the country exit the eurozone or the EU? These and many other questions along these lines cloud the economic environment. Meanwhile time is running out and if there is no government any time soon, Greece will not receive the next tranche of loans from its trio of lenders, with whatever implications this can have.

The elections have produced a very fluid political setting. I am much worried about the European prospects of the country given that many anti-European sentiments have gained significant exposure. If populism from all sides prevails, then I am afraid that it will have a chilling effect on the country, plunging Greece into chaos and putting it along a perilous path that can only lead into more suffering.

The question we need to answer is whether these elections have signaled the defeat of the austerity policies or whether they have shown that reason has given its way to populism, political fragmentation and a war of all against all? I have no clear-cut answer. I may only wish that logic prevails and everyone stands up to their duty towards the Greek people and the well-meant interests of the country.