ATHENS – As voter returns in the May 6 Greek elections showed a rejection of the traditional ruling parties of New Democracy Conservatives and PASOK Socialists support for austerity, they still nonetheless seemed to have gotten enough combined support to form another coalition government – a scenario previously rejected by Conservative leader Antonis Samaras. Exit polls showed New Democracy, soundly defeated in the 2009 elections, would take first place with 20.44 percent of the vote, but with the Leftist SYRIZA party scoring a huge upset by taking second at 15.63 percent, pushing PASOK, under its new leader Evangelos Venizelos, who served as Finance Minister in the current coalition it shared with New Democracy, into third at 14.23 percent.
The polls showed seven parties would enter Parliament and that New Democracy and PASOK, who supported pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions demanded by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) in return for $325 billion in two bailouts to prop up the country’s near-dead economy, had fallen to less than half the support they got in the last elections, a punishing defeat in one sense and rejection of their pro-austerity stance.
Still, if the exit polls held up, New Democracy would win 62 seats in the 300-member Parliament, plus a 50-seat bonus for the winning party, giving it 112 seats, while PASOK could win 43, giving the two parties an easy majority of 157 seats, enough to form another coalition if Samaras has a change-of-heart, as he often does, and excluding the second-place SYRIZA. It also means that they wouldn’t need a third party. The polls showed the new Independent Greeks party formed by New Democracy outcast Panos Kammenos, booted out of his former party for opposing austerity, in fourth place at 10.32 percent, the KKE Communists fifth at 8.32 percent, the neo-Nazi, Fascist Golden Dawn party at sixth at 6.8 percent – enough to win 21 seats and acute embarrassment for a democracy – and the Democratic Left seventh at 6 percent.
Excluded from Parliament would be the Democratic Alliance of former New Democracy Minister Dora Bakoyianni, the Ecological Greens, and the far Right-Wing LAOS party of George Karatzaferis, who would have paid a heavy price for briefly serving in the current shaky coalition formed six months earlier when former PASOK leader George Papandreou resigned in the face of two years or protests, strikes and riots against austerity. Support for those harsh measures caused support for New Democracy and PASOK to plummet to far less than half the 80 percent they won two years ago.
The results were being closely watched in Europe and internationally. The Troika has said that any attempts to tinker with demanded reforms could lead to the money pipeline being shut off. Greece is surviving on a first rescue package of $152 billion in international loans and a coming second bailout of $173 billion more, but that is contingent on the new government administering more harsh measures, including $15 billion more for beleaguered Greeks. Austerity has worsened a deep recession now in its fifth year, created 21.7 percent unemployment and led to to the closing of more than 111,000 businesses.
The elections proved to be a close thriller and showed the depth of the rage Greeks have toward austerity, but also the fears they had about being forced out of the 17 countries of the Eurozone using the euro as a currency. The Troika had warned that any attempts to tinker with austerity and more reforms, including another $15 billion in cuts it said is needed this year, would lead to the loans being shut off and Greece possibly being forced out of the Eurozone, showing the dilemma that Greeks had.
The election shaped up as real drama, with the likelihood for a time that SYRIZA might even propel itself ahead of New Democracy and take first place. It was clear, however, that Greece’s two-party system has been disrupted because of the economic crisis and austerity measures.
PASOK’s new leader, former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor while letting tax evaders owing the country more than $72 billion largely escape, said he might support another coalition – but only if his dreaded rival Samaras would allow an appointed Prime Minister. That position is now being held by former ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos, a technocrat and not a politician, who said he’s not interested in staying on. He came into office with a near 75 percent approval rating but leaves in great disfavor among Greeks for engineering the second bailout that came with more of the harsh austerity measures he said he’d try to avoid, but to which he relented in the face of continuing Troika pressure.
Samaras had repeatedly rejected the idea of another coalition but one real winner was SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, 37, who surged from being a marginalized party to being a new force in Greek politics, even if he’s excluded from a new governmenty. In perhaps the most critical elections since the fall of the military junta in 1974 and the restoration of Democracy, disgruntled Greeks went to the polls on May 6 to decide whether to bring back the traditional ruling parties now in an uneasy power sharing coalition that has imposed harsh austerity measures on workers, pensioners and the poor, or support a raft of new groups opposed to international bailouts and the pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions that came with them. The elections went off quietly, unless the constant demonstrations that have beset the country since 2009.
Furious Greeks, who have been protesting, striking and rioting for two years, and who brought down the previous government led by former PASOK leader George Papandreou, were set to punish the two ruling parties by defecting to anti-bailout groups and a motley collection that included anti-capitalists, pirates, Nazis and a porno star. Some 9.8 million people were eligible to vote, including 360,000 for the first time, but there were expectations of a high level of abstentions as well.
1. New Democracy 17%-20%
2. SYRIZA 15,5%-18,5%
3. PASOK 14%-17%
4. Independent Greeks (ANEL) 10%-12%
5. Communist Party KKE 7,5%-9,5%
6. Chrysi Avyi (Golden Dawn) 6%-8%
7. Democratic Left (DIMAR) 4,5%-6,6%
8. LAOS 2,5%-3,5%
9. Democratic Alliance DISY 2%-2,8%