Before the polls open in Greece
With hundreds of foreign journalists in Athens, and with the international media focusing on Greece rather than on Sarkozy-Hollande’s final round, it looks like what happens there will most significantly contribute to the hot debate on the future of the eurozone. Of course, Greece was among the first and most dramatically affected country in the eurozone crisis.
The biggest victim of Greece’s collapse has been the middle class, traditionally the most active and productive part of society. For the past three decades this large social segment voted for the two main - socialist and centrist - political parties of PASOK and New Democracy (ND), which always attracted almost 75 percent of their vote. However, the unprecedented avalanche of salary reductions and heavy taxation, together with 21 percent unemployment, broke up this complacent class into small groups of disappointed and politically confused citizens.
Greeks agree now that their present ordeal is to do with the rigidity of European institutions. But they are also in full consensus that the Greek political establishment is mainly responsible for their present ills.
Except for the hard-core Communists, a large majority feels safer in the eurozone and wishes to remain in the EU. They also know that the two tough bail-out agreements or memoranda signed by their government with the “troika” of the EU, the ECB and the IMF will have to be honored, even with further austerity measures. But they are angry at their politicians, and they want to change everything. This is particularly present among the middle income segment and has triggered chain reactions.
Disillusionment and hardship has made large numbers of middle class voters, trapped until now into the ranks of the two main parties, abandon them in disgust. This gave them a feeling of liberation, but also a moral justification to choose any other splinter party which sprang out of this crisis. It is doubtful if both main parties will ever regain their old monopoly.
Probably none of the main parties will achieve an absolute majority. Antonis Samaras’ ND, elected on an anti-memorandum banner but having made an about face on the way, may not exceed 25 percent. Many disappointed supporters are now behind the new “Independent Greeks” of Panos Kammenos, which may reach 10 percent by accusing ND of selling Greece out to the foreigners. PASOK, after the humiliating exit of George Papandreou, could not be resurrected even under Evangelos Venizelos and probably will not exceed 17 percent. Its former furious supporters blame Papandreou for tying Greece to an un-negotiated bail-out program with the EU-IMF. Many fled to the left to fill the ranks of the two parties that want a revival of Europe on a socially responsible ticket. These two are expected to attract at least 20 percent combined and SYRIZA of Alexis Tsipras – the biggest surprise of these elections - may become the third biggest party, exceeding 15 percent.
The Communists may keep their old 7 percent but a leadership challenge may haunt their current leader, Mrs. Papariga. The biggest headache is the fascists of “Golden Dawn,” who may enter the new Parliament with a surprising 5 percent. Known politicians like Dora Bakoyannis will probably leave the stage after defeat.
What will happen then? In spite of the acrimonious campaign, ND and PASOK will try to form a coalition government with smaller parties. Greece is entering a new period of political uncertainty which may produce new leaders, new parties, new political dynamics. New elections, soon, are not unlikely. One thing for certain is that Greeks - uncomfortably awakened from the political lethargy of the last few decades and disengaged from their old party affiliations - see that they can use their democratic vote to affect the governance of their country.