Election scenarios in Greece: Everything is possible

Election scenarios in Greece: Everything is possible

It is not only Turkey that is in turmoil due to a bitter political confrontation ahead of local elections. It is not only Turkey where political polarization breeds conspiracies and leaves part of society undecided about their vote and in deep doubt about the credibility of political narratives.

The new year arrived with Greece, the eurozone country worst hit by the economic crisis, taking over the presidency of the EU for six months. The government of Antonis Samaras, a weak coalition of two former political arch-enemies, the conservative New Democracy party and the socialist party PASOK, has been pushing a bitter mix of taxes, austerity measures and structural reforms down the throats of Greeks. After seven years, an exhausted society has seen its middle classes being crushed by over-taxation, unemployment and recession. It has seen its youth hit by the worst unemployment on record. And it has not seen the expected keen investors storm into Greece with new job-creating enterprises. In fact, Greece at the moment is 163th out of 173 countries regarding the contribution of investments to GNP. 

The Greek government does not see it in the same way. “Greece takes over the presidency of the EU, not as a country in crisis, but as a country in recovery,” declared the technocratic minister of finance, Yiannis Stournaras. 

“Greece accepted the solidarity of its European partners, and now it is called upon to bring out all the elements that unite us, by enforcing social cohesion, securing prosperity and stability for all citizens, with a return to growth and creating jobs,” he said. 

He promotes as a major government achievement the fact that, for the first time, Greece registered a primary surplus of 603 million euros for the last year compared to a deficit of 3,464 million euros in 2012. However, the opposition challenges this and claims that very little has changed in the running of the country, a claim supported by the official statement of the General Inspector of Public Administration that the cost of bureaucracy and corruption in Greece amounts to 15 percent of GNP. 

Few doubt that the first half of the year will determine the political future both of the Greek government but also of the official opposition, as well as that of the smaller parties. This is the period of municipal elections, local authority elections and European Parliament elections, which are expected in May.

During the last month, a series of major corruption scandals investigated by determined prosecutors have dominated the agenda. At the same time, the issue of a convicted terrorist who did not return to prison after a short official leave added to an atmosphere of an imminent terrorist attack. But it seems that the public is not surprised by corruption scandals and is not afraid of terrorism. The immediate problems of surviving are much bigger. 

Recent opinion polls show interesting findings. Since the start of the year, the percentage of undecided citizens, which was quite high, has started to decrease. The leftist opposition is slowly gathering pace, but confusing and contradicting statements by its policy makers stop more people from 
supporting the candidates of Syriza for local authorities or for EMPs. 

The latest trends show that Greek voters will head to the simultaneous polls to select their representatives for the European Parliament and local authorities with the intention of expressing their dismay toward the EU. But with regards to the election of mayors and members of municipal councils, what will count will be their personality and their aptitude to deal with local governance.

It is the European and local authority elections that will be the big challenge for the government, which has been seen as abiding by every demand by Brussels. What if the protest vote is high? Should that not raise an issue of its credibility? 

Hence the scenario of early elections – perhaps at the same time as the European elections. Syriza is confident of its victory both in the municipal elections and in an early electoral fight. 

But the Europeans are worried about such a drastic political change in a country with the biggest debt in the history of the EU. So another scenario is being pushed forward at the moment which for many would sound totally unlikely: a coalition of conservatives and Syriza. That would cover the biggest possible percentage of votes and secure the application of the agreed reforms. It is perhaps unthinkable, but...