Greek elections: Between a rock and a hard place

Greek elections: Between a rock and a hard place

I called several of my relatives in Greece the other day. I wanted to know for whom they are going to cast their vote in the general elections on July 7.  They are an interesting social bunch and they could present a good sample for a pollster. Among them are several pensioners of various professions, some full-time professionals, housewives, and young graduates working in low paid jobs or temporary jobs, etc. The older ones are more keenly interested in politics, mainly of the left; the middle ones care more about their jobs; the young ones are indifferent and confused. Their excuse is “everybody is the same” and they did not vote in the last elections. Some live in Athens, some on the Ionian island where I come from.

When we last had a similar conversation, it was in the summer of 2015.  Since then, it has been a long dramatic period of highs and lows; first the unexpected electoral triumph of Alexis Tsipras’ Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in January 2015. Everybody was happy. Then problems started with Syriza’s disputes with Brussels and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They disapproved of Syriza’s ideas of how to restore the economy. They were unwilling to continue financing a bankrupt economy, Grexit was in the air. Tough negotiations led to a new even more painful bailout agreement, then a mass resignation of 40 Syriza MPs. Tsipras decided to go to snap elections in September. He won against all predictions but failed to secure absolute majority, hence teaming up with the small nationalist conservative party of Independent Greeks. 

Tsipras managed to get the country out of the last bailout plan, shoring up money into the previously empty state coffers. But in doing so, it overtaxed the middle classes, put the emphasis on helping the poorer, and did not produce a comprehensive economic plan; he failed to kick-start the economy and failed to put the country on the road of self-confidence. Tired of waiting and having lost their patience for a better life, Greeks have turned now to the conservative alternative offered by New Democracy party.  Its leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is promising “decent” jobs and “economic growth,” and most of all “lower taxes.”

The European and local elections in Greece last month showed a dramatic swing of voters towards the New Democracy party. Syriza suffered a considerable loss and forced Tsipras to call for snap elections for July 7.

 My conversation with many people in Greece this time gave me an even clearer picture of how things have shaped now.  By now, sadly, some of the older ones – and more radical ones - have passed away, the remaining ones, after their initial enthusiasm for a new era of hope and honesty represented by Syriza, are now in a state of sadness and resignation. They admit they overestimated Syriza, “they made mistakes, they were amateurs, they did not learn,” they told me. One, an old aunt in her late 80s who is now walking with a frame, was furious: “They shamed the reputation of the left. He sided with the Americans and NATO. From now on, nobody would dare to say he is leftist.” But she will vote for Syriza again.

Some have lost their jobs and try to make ends meet by working part-time here and there. Most will vote now for New Democracy. Among the youngest ones, few found full-time jobs, others continue with their summer temp jobs, doing nothing in the winter. They may not even bother to vote.

All of them know, however, that a free market economy as advocated by Mitsotakis may put more money in their pocket by reducing taxes but their pensions and social security benefits may be under threat against a philosophy of privatization.

The latest polls are predicting a bigger swing towards New Democracy on July 7 polls. Some predict an absolute majority government. Analysts tell us that after a decade-long crisis, Greeks are now feeling that a period of “normality” is starting. They are not full of anger as before, hence they will not vote of the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. The middle-classes, after being badly squeezed for a long time, feel more hopeful with a New Democracy government.  But whether such an administration will be able to complete its four-year term will depend on its capability to deliver in its promises. In other words, whether or not it will bring more money into the individual and family budget.

Interestingly, in my amateurish and limited poll among my Greek relatives, I did not notice that their voting behavior would be influenced by the heightened tension between Turkey and Greece. So, not even a Greek-Turkish “war” matters.

Will a New Democracy government complete its term? This is a crucial question and not so easy to answer. A typical neoliberal approach, investment, privatizations and growth have to come first before tax cuts, decently paid jobs and decent pensions.

It is because of these known conditions that analysts believe that even if New Democracy wins, Syriza is not going to lose completely. Probably it will get stronger in the opposition, waiting to step in if the neo-liberal experiment fails.

Ariana Ferentinou,