Which way will Greece go?

Which way will Greece go?

The week starting today may trigger major political developments in Greece. It may change the parameters of the political spectrum as we have known it up until now and bring to the surface new players who would have to face the challenge of the next general elections, which are due in 2016 but are likely to take place later in 2015.

For all intents and purposes, the third and final voting today in the Greek Parliament to elect the successor to President Carolos Papoulias will fail to approve the candidate suggested by the Antonis Samaras coalition government. With a slim majority in Parliament and many independent lawmakers refusing to provide their support to the government, the outcome of today’s vote – save a dramatic last-minute change – will lead the country to a snap poll as spelled out in the Constitution.

In an interview with state television last Saturday, Samaras made a dramatic appeal to all members of Parliament that a snap poll may put the country in “fatal peril.” And with surprising self-confidence, he added that even if elections could not be avoided, this would suit him because he would be the winner, in the end. Is he out of his mind?

 Maybe not. Actually, he was the one who triggered the whole process in the first place. Claiming that he wanted “clean solutions,” he took the political risk of bringing forward the presidential elections due in a few months. He wanted to avoid a further decrease in his government’s popularity against a new bout of unpopular measures he had to take, and a further increase of the popularity of his main opponent, the leftist Syriza. However, he could not gather enough support among the other opposition parties and could not change the minds of enough independents to support the government’s presidential candidate.

So, the most likely sequence of events, starting from today would be the failure of the Greek government to have its presidential candidate approved by the required number of 180 deputies and the subsequent announcement of the date of a snap poll, perhaps in the last week of January. And judging from all recent opinion polls, the most likely winner of the poll will be Syriza, which by then will have merged with the small party of the Democratic Left. If that happens, a domino effect is expected to cause the collapse of the minor government coalition partner PASOK under the current vice premier, Evangelos Venizelos, which is also threatened by former Prime Minister George Papandreou who, planning an unexpected political comeback, is about to set up his own “PASOK-like” party. And if that was not enough of a political reshuffling, the “River,” a newly founded party with the conveniently vague rhetoric of “let us change everything” and “down with the past,” is heading for the third place.
If Syriza fails to secure an absolute majority – a most likely eventuality – the “River” may become the new “joker card” of Greek politics. “The Greek people will tell us which party to support,” said one of its spokespersons, recently replying to the question as to whether they would collaborate with Syriza’s leftists or New Democracy’s center-rightists in the next elections.    

However, we should look further.

Opinion polls published yesterday confirmed that the imminence of a snap poll has had a strong psychological effect on society. Although an overwhelming majority of Greeks have been experiencing a dramatic fall in their living standards for more than five years, the prospect of a new government under Syriza looks increasingly now as a jump into the unknown. The surveys showed a significant decrease in the difference between Syriza and New Democracy and overwhelming support for choosing a president under the present Parliament without going to snap elections. 

This may lead us to a different scenario of events. That is what some analysts are calling “the left parenthesis,” i.e., that a leftist Syriza-led government resulting from the snap poll may rapidly become so unpopular since it will not be able to avoid imposing unpopular measures agreed by the previous government and will thus lose its ideological credibility before its electorate. This would again open the path for the return of New Democracy as a main player. Of course, this leaves open an expected infighting period for the leadership of the ND party in the event of a defeat in the expected snap polls.

And of course, this is assuming that all this would be seen favorably by the Europeans and international financial capital.

And last but not least: In that chaotic political equation, one player seems to be fading way: the neo-Nazis of the Golden Dawn party.