Either compromise or conflict

Either compromise or conflict

Last week’s general elections in Greece produced a hung parliament. Not a surprise. In a country with a collapsing economy, whose frightened and confused citizens are trying to make sense between the external threats of their international partners and the conspiratorial fantasies by domestic ultranationalist prophets like the Golden Dawn, it is very difficult to choose the right leader.

But the rise of the ultra-right was just one side of the coin. The other was the fall of the party that dominated Greek politics for the three decades, the socialist PASOK. Its dramatic decrease in votes by almost 30 percent in the May 6 elections led its current leader Evangelos Venizelos to declare that “the party has rotten from inside,” and to embark on the almost impossible task of its resurrection. 

The leader of the first party in last week’s elections (New Democracy, ND), Antonis Samaras, cannot be very happy either, as the 18 percent could not give him an absolute majority, but was enough to cause him to have to face interparty challenges after his party lost fifteen percent compared to the last elections. Syriza’s leftist coalition was the real winner. It increased its votes by almost thirteen percent and became the second party, only two percent behind the first. The results therefore produced surprises, but no overall winner.

After a week of unsuccessful negotiations among the main parties, the Greek President Karolos Papoulias launched a round of meetings with the leaders of all elected parties in a last attempt to form a government. All polls conducted after last week’s elections show that should fresh elections be called, support for Syriza would increase significantly, with Alexis Tsipras’s party remaining adamant on its stance to cancel the austerity measures agreed in return for the EU-IMF loans worth 130bn euros.

How much chance there is for a coalition government to emerge from this week? Syriza - which since last week has frightened everybody with unfortunate statements from its newly elected deputies about nationalizing banks and getting “voluntary” loans of one hundred euros from everybody with 20,000 euros in their bank account to help the poor - should have every reason to ask for elections.

This is not the line of the other two main parties, ND and PASOK, who have been governing the country in a forced coalition over the last few months. If new elections were held, polls predict that ND would hardly increase its votes, while PASOK would fall even further. It is also interesting that the rest of the parties, including the extreme right, would also see their votes decrease. However, only 22.9% of the people want new elections and an overwhelming majority wishes for the parties to agree to a compromise and keep the country in the euro.

I hear that there is enormous pressure on Syriza both from inside but also from outside Greece to soften its “anti-bailout” stance. Greece’s creditors and European institutions are warning with increased volume to the Greeks that “they are not indispensable,” as the rules of participation may change.

This week’s crucial meetings in Brussels on the eurozone organs, the meeting of Hollande and Merkel, as well as the developments in Spain and Italy, will all play an important role in the attitude of both the political leaders and the Greek voters should elections take place in early June.

What do I think? I think that a compromise solution is more likely to be found this week with a broader base government, perhaps under a left leaning leader - not Tsipras of Syriza - in order to placate public rage for the moment. This may prevent the free fall of the old parties, but it may also prevent Syriza from governing. I would also dare to claim that this is something that would suit Syriza, as it has clearly shown that it is not ready to govern, yet.