Greek voters punish pro-austerity parties

Greek voters punish pro-austerity parties

Greek voters punish pro-austerity parties

Left Coalition party leader Alexis Tsipras greets supporters with a clenched fist in central Athens after elections. Tsipras calls the election a ‘message of overthrow’ after his Syriza party took 16.6 percent of the vote and 51 seats. AP photo

Greek voters delivered a stunning anti-austerity election verdict on May 6, punishing the ruling coalition and allowing a far-right extremist group into Parliament, although no party won enough votes to govern alone.

May 6’s outcome showed widespread public anger at the harsh austerity measures imposed over the past two years in return for the rescue loans from other EU countries and the IMF that are keeping Greece solvent.

The two mainstream parties, the socialist PASOK party and the conservative New Democracy (ND), fell short of an absolute majority in Parliament with their combined share of the vote at just 32.1 percent. This share was just over half their score in the 2009 election, making it unclear how a new government will be formed. The impasse could endanger the country’s vital international bailout, as continued release of rescue loans depends on Greece speedily implementing agreed reforms and cutbacks, and raises questions over the country’s long-term participation in the euro.

Newcomer: Neo-Nazi party

“Citizens sent a very clear message that they don’t want this (austerity) policy to continue,” PASOK spokeswoman Fofi Gennimata said. PASOK was reduced to third place, its vote having more than halved to 13.31 percent, 41 seats, with the voters’ deserting it for having pushed through punishing public spending cuts.

While the ND scraped into first place in the election, it was with the party’s lowest ever score: 19.6 percent of the vote, winning them 109 seats in the 300-seat parliament. In second place came the leftist, anti-austerity Syriza party, with 16.6 percent of the vote and 51 seats, more than tripling its 2009 showing. Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras had promised to freeze payments to creditors and renegotiate measures included in Greece’s latest 130 billion euro rescue package.

The election also fragmented the political landscape, with voters sending at least seven parties to Parliament. One of these newcomers is the neo-Nazi Hryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which broke into Parliament for the first time in nearly 40 years.

The party’s claims that immigrants had stolen Greeks’ jobs and were responsible for a wave of crime found an audience in a country struggling with 20 percent unemployment and rising poverty. Its 6.9 percent of the vote should give it 21 deputies.

New Democracy will have three days to form a government, after which the mandate will go to the second party for a further three days, and then to the third party. If none can form a coalition government, the country will head to new elections, a prospect that worries Greece’s international lenders.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.