by Konstantinos G. Margaritis, Contributor
On Sunday May 6 the Greek citizens had to vote in maybe the most important elections since the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic, after the fall of the military junta in 1974. The continuous threat of bankruptcy which led to the adoption of the Memorandum, on one hand and the austerity measures taken during the last two years as a result of the Memorandum policy on the other, created a new dilemma among voters in favor of or against the Memorandum. This was an additional parameter, maybe stronger in the voter’s conscience, to the traditional center-right, center-left distinction which is represented by the two major parties in Greece, New Democracy (ND) and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).
At present, some major highlights of the outcomes of the recent Greek elections will be presented. The aim of the paper is to inform the readers about the result of the electoral process as well as to assist in crystallizing opinions regarding the correlation of power between the parties in the new Greek Parliament.
The first-placed party was the center-right wing, New Democracy with 18.87% of the vote and 108 out of 300 Members in the Parliament. It is the first time in the period of the Third Hellenic Republic that the top party takes such an incredibly low percentage in the national elections. This could be understood for two main reasons. First and more important was the support of the party for the actions of the previous government, with particular focus on the vote of the so-called 2nd Memorandum as a result of the participation of the party in the coalition government of November 2011.
Second, the “leak” of voters and members to the newly-established right wing-party Independent Greeks pervaded the power of New Democracy. Independent Greeks’ rhetoric is based on the anti-Memorandum way of exiting the crisis and the re-establishment of the state without corruption; a quite successful rhetoric that managed to coil the right wing voters as well as many unsatisfied Greek people. In its first electoral rally, the Independent Greeks party took 10.60% of the vote and 33 seats in the Parliament, a result that definitely includes them among the winners of the elections.
The actual winner of the elections was beyond any dispute the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). Under a strong and quite persistent anti-Memorandum program that targets the avoidance of “social bankruptcy” and a “social cohesion break” the party convinced 16.76% of the voters. This is a major achievement taking into account that the party never belonged to the traditional bipartisanship.
Of course, the percentage of the party is not commensurate to that of the leftists within the Greek society. SYRIZA absorbed unsatisfied voters from the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, the party that traditionally represented the center-left wing in a broader sense.
Another element that made SYRIZA popular was its determination to govern. Always being in the shadow of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), SYRIZA was attached the label of belligerent with no alternative opinion; it was criticized for a lack of realistic solutions to the problems Greece has been through. Now the party appears to have convinced voters that it can materialize a different path; it also proposed other left-oriented parties (Communist Party and Democratic Left) to coalesce in order to form a true left-wing government for the first time in the modern history of Greece.
The party that decreased its percentage the most in those elections was the formerly-governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement. The whole Memorandum policy and its subsequent austerity measures adopted within the last two years was clearly its strategy, a strategy that appears to have failed. The high level of employment and the rising level of poverty stand for the argument. People felt that their sacrifices have no reward as the public finances are still a target and the plan of development has been far from being materialized. Hence, the party managed to get a poor 13.19% its lowest percentage since its establishment in 1974. An additional party that paid for its support for the Memorandum policy with no entry into the Parliament was the Orthodox Popular Rally which took only 2.90% of the vote.
Another important fact of the recent elections regards the tremendous rise of the far right, neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn which achieved obtaining 6.97% of the vote. Nevertheless, the percentage of Greeks that truly embrace such an extreme political ideology is much lower; the true reasons of the party’s rise must be foraged elsewhere. Indeed, the high level of criminality in certain regions, especially in Athens and the totally absent national policy for illegal migration, which inevitably leads to an accumulation of illegal entrances into the country, increased the sense of fear within society. The outcome is that many people ended up believing that Golden Dawn can put an end to this severe problem where all other political associations failed.
Another reason which may be searched for in the general conditions is what Greek society has been going through lately. The economic slump and the number of people falling to the level of poverty in Greece increasing month by month in addition to the total absence of any perspective for development or improvement enhance hate within society. Social groups are pointing to each other as almost responsible for the severe economic situation. In such a social environment the hate targeted the weakest of the social groups is an easy “solution”. As illegal immigrants are by status in a very hard position from many points of view (legal, ethnic, racial etc.), it is logical (not accepted) to have to deal with extreme behaviors on behalf of some locals. That could increase the impact of a party which is based on hate ideology, as the Golden Dawn.
A final remark regarding the results of the recent elections is related to the general disapproval of the policy followed since 2009. Greek people expressed themselves in a very particular way; they cannot afford more austerity measures anymore. This is the rationale behind how all parties that support a different path opposing the Memorandum have raised their power. A concrete development plan is the key that will boost the economy of the country and strengthen social cohesion. The message was sent and was quite clear, but was it received?
*Konstantinos G. Margaritis, LLM, Dr. iur. candidate, Attorney at Law