ATHENS – Even as the votes were still being counted in the May 6 general elections to replace a temporary, shaky coalition government, and with exit polls showing big gains for groups opposed to the austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for $325 billion in two bailouts to prop up the country’s near-dead economy, the leaders of Greece’s political parties took to immediate posturing to demonstrate what they said was support for their positions.
The PASOK Socialist party’s new leader Evangelos Venizelos, who saw his party fall from winning the 2009 elections with 44 percent to what polls showed would be a third-place finish at less than 14 percent, teased Greeks about whether he would go along with a coalition. His bitter rival, New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, was poised to finish first, but only with about 20.29 percent of the vote, some 15 percent less than two years ago. While ideological opponents, PASOK and New Democracy both supported pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions insisted upon by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) in return for a first bailout of $152 billion two years ago and a new package of $173 billion more.
The Leftist SYRIZA party was set to finish second ahead of PASOK with about 15.86 percent. The new Independent Greeks party formed by New Democracy outcast Panos Kammenos, booted out of his former party for opposing austerity, surged into a strong fourth-place showing with about 10.4 percent. If the exit polls hold up, the KKE Communists would finish fifth with 8.37 percent, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn at sixth with 6.85 percent and the Democratic Left, a PASOK offshoot, seventh at 5.99 percent. No other party among the 32 in the elections would cross the 3 percent threshold to win seats in the Parliament, including the far Right-Wing LAOS party of George Karatzaferis, who briefly served in the current coalition and paid a heavy price for doing so.
PASOK and New Democracy are now sharing power in an uneasy hybrid government being overseen by former ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos, but Samaras, who said he wanted to be Greece’s sole ruler, has repeatedly rejected working again with Venizelos in a coalition, although the PASOK leader kept the door open. “We will help with all our heart from the position we will have in the operation of the democratic regime. May the God of Greece help us. The following days, decisions must be taken about the economy and politics. There must be a government in responsibility and an ability to make decisions. The question is who will do the difficult and responsible job so that the country can operate in security,” Venizelos said.
“We have said that PASOK is not a given. What we said before the elections, we say now as well. There is a meaning of having a government of national unity on a common basis. The possibility of a government of national ulnity has to be sought, but with sincerity, seriousness and quickly. We will take the initiative toward that direction,” he said, according to Proto Thema.
Before the elections, he had warned that Greece could be forced out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency unless voters gave a mandate to his party and New Democracy and pro-bailout parties, and not opposition groups. “The Greek people did not give a clear mandate to any of the proposals that were put forward. Based on this data, it is difficult to form a government of pro-European stance. The forming of a self-governing government has been rejected as New Democracy would have wanted it,” he said in an apparent swipe at Samaras who said he wanted to rule alone and without a coalition partner. “Based on the result, all Greeks have to get to know each other again. We embittered the nation in order to protect its future.”
Samaras, without referring to the idea of a coalition, said he wanted to renegotiate the terms of austerity, although he supported them while in the coalition but opposed them when former PASOK leader George Papandreou was Prime Minister. Samaras said he wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone but wants the bailout terms he supported changed “so as to have growth and relief for Greek society,” according to the Athens News Agency (ANA.) The Troika has warned that any attempts to change the reforms could lead the loans being stopped. He did not get the outright mandate he wanted to govern alone but said, “New Democracy party is emerging as the first party, something that increases its responsibilities, I understand the people’s rage, but our party will not leave Greece ungoverned,” Samaras added.
Kammenos was unequivocal in his opposition to a coalition and boasted about the startling results for a new party. “Independent Greeks started as a wind and became a tsunami. What we said stands forever: not even dead will I cooperate with New Democracy. We do not cooperate with informers and the organs of bankers.” He said his party and SYRIZA had a common stance against the bailout but too many differences on other issues to work together. SYRIZA’s leader, Alex Tsipras, 37, had reached out to Kammenos and said he was even willing to have Communist leader Aleka Papariga, who said she doesn’t want to lead but only to oppose, to be Prime Minister. Kammenos said Samaras and Venizelos should abandon politics.
Tsipras unleashed another blistering attack on Greece’s traditional ruling parties. “Neither Samaras nor Venizelos have understood,” he said of his party’s strong showing and that of anti-austerity groups. “It’s a powerful message of subversion in Greece as well as in Europe,” he said, referring to the austerity demands of European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is putting up most of the bailout money for Greece from Europe. Tsipras said the results were also, “A message of peaceful revolution. The peoples of Europe cannot compromise with the memorandum of barbarism,” he said of the austerity demands. “They cannot make legal a future with no dignity. Merkel must understand that the politics of austerity has suffered a painful defeat. The Greek people have given a mandate.” Tsipras, who led Greece’s Communist Youth organization, called for a coalition government of Leftist parties.
Communist leader Aleka Papariga said, “The results show subversion of our familiar political scene, discontinuation of the alternating system of the two parties, PASOK and ND … we consider this proposal a significant consignment of trust for the people. We feel our responsibility and role towards the people and their problems is increasing. KKE had a slight rise. Of course we wanted a higher rise. We had no illusions that the percentage could have reached the heights,” she said. As is usual in Greek politics, party leaders avoided appearing before the press to face questions and released statements instead.
(Sources: Kathimerini, ANA)