Radical Parties Make Significant Gains in Greek Elections
May 8, 2012
By: Garrett Nada

On May 6, Greeks voted in an early election to select all 300 members of their legislature. Under the constitution, the election was not due to be held until 2013 but an agreement between parties was reached in November 2011 to form a coalition government to deal with economic crisis. The largest party, Pasok lost a significant number of seats in the election. It formally held 160 seats in the legislature but now holds only 41. Its coalition partner, New Democracy (ND) managed to gain 17 seats, for a total of 108. Despite this gain in seats, it actually lost support overall, garnering just 19 percent of the popular vote as compared to 33.5 percent in 2009. Additionally, without Pasok’s dominance it will have significantly less influence going forward. Both parties back the latest austerity package and bailout in order to remain in the Eurozone. They were unable to win leftwing support to form a coalition and therefore a repeat vote may take place on June 17.

According to Professor Dimitri Mardas of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greek voters “punished” ND and Pasok. In a BBC op-ed he wrote:

The voters appear to have decided that they did not fulfill the expectations of both the poor and the middle classes. The two parties did not push for development with a search for growth, nor did they manage the debt. They did not negotiate properly with the troika (the EU, IMF and ECB) and did not have a team with the strategy or knowledge that could have produced a better deal for Greece.

Overall, about 70 percent of the legislature seats went to anti-austerity parties including Syriza, which surprised observers when it took second place in the election with 52 seats.  Alexis Tspiras, the party leader, said that his cabinet would reject “barbaric” austerity measures but Syriza was also unable to form a coalition. The results of a second round of voting could be very different given that only 65 percent of voters participated, an all-time low according to the Interior Ministry. According to the Financial Times, the youth vote may be important, given that jobless rates for workforce entrants have climbed to over 50 percent. Even after a new round of elections though, forming a coalition will still be difficult due to the polarized environment. On the far left of the political spectrum, the Communist Party (KKE) took 26 seats and on the far right, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party won 21 seats.

This is the first time that the Golden Dawn party has garnered enough votes to enter parliament. It won 7 percent of the popular vote, which means that some 750,000 Greeks voted for a party that openly identifies itself as neo-Nazi through its symbols, songs and xenophobic rhetoric. Greece’s small Jewish community of about 5,000 is treading lightly. During the Holocaust, 67,000 Jews (86 percent of the community) perished. For now, the Golden Dawn party has only targeted immigrants from America and the Balkan states, blaming them for taking jobs away from Greeks. In Europe, it is common for fascist or ultra-conservative parties to gain votes during times of economic austerity. According ELSTAT statistics service, currently, one in five Greeks is unemployed and as previously mentioned, about half of all youth are currently unemployed.
The economic crisis in Greece is now more serious due to the inability of either the right or left to form a coalition government. Since 2008, Greece’s economy has shrunk by about a fifth. This recession is the worst Greece has seen since World War II and it has been exacerbated by at least a decade of government overspending. The latest political delay could jeopardize the timetable for disbursement of Greece’s next loan tranche remaining from its second €174 billion bailout. According to the Financial Times, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have warned that they will withhold further loan disbursements until the new parliament approves the medium-term bailout package. This will require significant, unpopular, cuts in the public employment sector and healthcare spending. If the next disbursement is delayed, the country (despite a recent transfer of €3.5 billion) may fail to pay salaries, pensions and debt commitments. Paying unemployment benefits will also be difficult. According to Reuters, since the unemployment rate is so high, more people are eligible for benefits than in the past. Around 600,000 jobs have been lost since 2008.

The Financial Times - Greece braces for repeat elections

BBC - Greek election: Syriza seeks anti-austerity coalition

Haaretz - After elections, Greece's Jews come to terms with neo-Nazi triumph

The Guardian - Eurozone crisis live: Bailout pledges 'null and void' says Syriza leader

Reuters - One in five Greeks unemployed, half of all youth

BBC - Viewpoint: Greece must avoid new elections