Post-election blues in Greece… and conundrums

Post-election blues in Greece… and conundrums

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou
The poll results of the national elections in Greece last Sunday should not have surprised anyone, especially the average Greek voter, yet the outcome of the polls is hard to swallow because of its ambivalence. Some commentators suggest that May 6 could well have the same significance for the modern history of the country as the return to democracy in 1974; in other words, nothing short of a peaceful revolution, nothing less than a political reversal. 

The two parties that have led Greece since 1974 received just over 32 percent of the vote, implying a loss of over 3 million votes in less than three years. On the other hand, the parties of the left (SYRIZA, the Communist Party of Greece, and the Democratic Left) together polled a historic high of over 31.3 percent. Other numbers also merit mention – 19 percent of those voting are not represented in the new Parliament as the parties they voted for could not cross the 3 percent threshold, while some 35 percent did not go to the polls. The fact that a fifth of the voters are not represented by the seven parties that made it to Parliament could very well imply the truly democratic character of these elections, as most voters felt liberated from the arguments of both ND and PASOK that they are the only guarantors of stability and the only forces capable of leading the country. Also, many of those that did not vote could not afford to do so, as the cost of travel to where they are registered was deemed exorbitant. Finally, Golden Dawn, a party propounding the virtues of fascism and hate, garnered just under 7 percent of the vote with some 14 percent of those between 18 to 35 voting for it. In fact, the nationalist parties overall received some 20 percent of the vote.

Never mind the complicated political landscape, the issues at hand are twofold – governance and the strategic orientation of the country. Are the political parties represented in Parliament able and/or willing to govern the country? Although all insist that “there are no deadlocks in a democracy,” none seem to want to assume the mantle of the country’s leadership. The leader of ND, the party that insisted on early elections, has already given up on forming a government. The leader of SYRIZA, the party is considered to be the big winner of these elections, seems unwilling to want to be tested and prefers the traditional role of a vocal opposition party. PASOK finds itself on the verge of extinction. Due to the lack of a culture of cooperation between political parties in Greece, new elections may have to be called for mid June which will bring an even more ambivalent result. 

A more troubling aspect of these elections is that most Greek voters, although committed to belonging to the European Union and the euro currency, seem unwilling to accept anymore the tough measures that the country’s creditors are demanding. Terms such as “national dignity,” “standing up to the occupation forces” and “patriotism” prevail in the popular discourse - to the point that the leaders of ND and PASOK, the two parties that agreed to the bailout terms, seem willing to support renegotiating them while the Left want the bailout declared null and void. This is also happening at a time when the state will run out of funds by mid-June should the next tranche of the bailout funds not arrive. 

The prevailing mood today is in favor of bankruptcy and “independence” rather than accepting the tough reform measures that are perceived as being imposed on the country rather than a product of negotiation. In other words, whether Greece acquires a government or moves towards new elections, the country’s European orientation hangs in the balance, with whatever consequences this may have for Greece, the EU, and its neighbors, such as Turkey. The conundrums abound.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou is Director of the Center for International and European Studies (CIES) at Kadir Has University