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Deciphering the Greek Election Results: A Few Preliminary Thoughts

The verdict of the Greek people in the national elections of 25 January 2015 was loud and clear. The Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) prevailed, winning 36.3% of votes against 27.8% of New Democracy (ND), the main centre-right party. The Greek voters unequivocally expressed their exhaustion, despair and resent caused by a five-year-long period of recession and austerity policies.

The far-right party of Golden Dawn (XA) got 6.3% of votes despite a series of revelations concerning its criminal activities and the imprisonment of almost its entire political leadership. As for Potami (the River), a centrist party that was founded a year ago, it came fourth, receiving 6% of votes. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) took 5.5%, followed by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and the Independent Greeks (ANEL), an anti-austerity right-wing populist party. These two parties had a similar performance, each of them receiving around 4.7% of the vote.

Syriza fell short by two seats of securing an absolute parliamentary majority, electing 149 lawmakers in a 300-seat parliament. As a result, it should form a coalition government and ANEL has already declared that it would give a vote of confidence to the Syriza-led government.

Fear and Hope

In the short four-week-long pre-electoral period, Syriza managed to impose its own agenda. Notwithstanding the efforts of ND to raise different issues, such as illegal migration, internal security and foreign policy, the debate was constantly dominated by a single theme: the bailout program and debt relief.

The campaign of Syriza revolved around the notion of ‘hope’ and was linked to a series of pledges such as: an immediate end to the austerity program; the launch of a welfare package targeting the most affected people by the crisis; and the negotiation of an agreement with the country’s creditors to write off most of the 240 billion euro external debt.

On the other hand, the ND campaign rested on the notions of ‘truth’ and ‘responsibility,’ and strove to raise awareness about the peril of bankruptcy implied in the party program of Syriza. Surprisingly, ND did not at all attempt to highlight any of its accomplishments during its term in power. Nor did ND articulate any plan of its own for the termination of the crisis, confining itself to a promise of gradual tax reduction.

As for most of the smaller parties – Potami, PASOK, ANEL, KIDISO and DIMAR – they mainly struggled to convince the people that they would play a constructive role in the next parliament, as well as make the difference if they emerged as partners in a new governing coalition.

In the Mind of Alexis Tsipras

The day after the elections is anything but easy for Syriza. Alexis Tsipras will literally have to find a way to square the circle. Whereas most of Syriza supporters voted for a change of course in economic policy, Greece’s creditors have firmly stated that they would not accept anything less than the full implementation of the bailout program. Moreover, Tsipras does not have endless time at his disposal to negotiate with the creditors (at best, six months) and he knows that around 75% of the Greek people support the country’s membership in the euro-zone ‘at any cost’. In this regard, Syriza has to find a way to deliver on some of its election promises without entering into a direct collision course with the country’s international lenders. Nevertheless, if Tsipras makes a U-turn on his pledges, he may face sharp opposition from different radical-left factions inside his own party. And it is highly questionable how a Tsipras-led government might survive a possible split in Syriza considering that the party did not secure an outright parliamentary majority.

Business as Usual?

What about the country’s international relations? Should we expect any change at all? Indeed, foreign policy issues were not brought up in the campaign. If our point of reference is the party program of Syriza, we will observe the lack of any serious break with contemporary policies. Apart from some left-inspired criticisms of NATO and Western policies towards Russia, continuity seems to prevail regarding all major questions. For instance, on the Balkans, Syriza denounces nationalism and irredentism and stands in favor of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, as well as the region’s EU accession. On the name dispute, Syriza argues for the adoption by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia of a compound name with a geographical connotation of the term Macedonia, erga omnes (i.e., towards everyone). Likewise, on Kosovo’s recognition, Syriza endorses the conclusion of a mutually acceptable solution (i.e., by Belgrade too) in line with international law principles. Therefore, for the time being, we should probably keep our eyes on the economy.

 

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