ATHENS – New Democracy Conservative party leader Antonis Samaras, whose party gained first place in the May 6 elections with only 18.86 percent of the vote – its worst showing ever – has until May 10 to form a coalition government, a notion already rejected by other parties. If he fails, the chore goes to surprise second-place finisher, the SYRIZA Leftists, which got 16.77 percent of the vote and wants a radical coalition of sympathizers. If it fails, it’s the chance of the third-place PASOK Socialists, who shared an uneasy hybrid government with New Democracy, but fell to 13.18 percent, a crushing humiliation for the party that won the 2009 elections with more than 44 percent of the vote.
If all three fail, new elections would have to be held again with Greek media already speculating on a June 17 date, around the time that repayments on loans come due and as the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) has said the country needs to start making another $15 billion in cuts.
The Troika is loaning Greece $132 billion in a first-round series of rescue loans and a second coming bailout of $173 billion to keep alive the country’s near-dead economy. But it insisted on pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions, austerity measures backed by PASOK and New Democracy and which drove them nearly out of power and unable to form another coalition. Anti-bailout parties, such as SYRIZA, and the extreme right of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which wants to toss out all immigrants – including those who are Greek citizens – and wants to put landmines around Greece to isolate the country, gained from voter fury against austerity but are such a motley collection that many analysts said a coalition from among the seven parties who’ve won seats in the 300-member Parliament seems unlikely, setting up the possibility of another vote. In the meantime, political uncertainty looms in Greece with fears the stalemate could lead to the country being forced out of the 17-member Eurozone of countries using the euro as a currency and even jeopardize the financial bloc.
Samaras, whose push for snap elections in a bid to gain a Parliamentary majority backfired, won only 108 seats in Parliament for New Democracy, including a 50-seat bonus that goes to the first-place finisher. PASOK gained 41, leaving the two parties two votes shy of a majority and without legitimacy to try to rule again together, although Samaras had rejected the idea. He said, “We will not leave Greece ungoverned,” but he has almost nowhere to turn without PASOK.
SYRIZA is anti-capitalist, the fourth-place finisher, the Independent Greeks formed by New Democracy outcast Panos Kammenos, who detests Samaras, said they won’t work with New Democracy. The Communists finished fifth and the PASOK offshoot, the Democratic Left came in seventh and said it wouldn’t work with New Democracy. That leaves Samaras with the impossible prospect of turning to Golden Dawn, which is also anti-bailout but seen as a near-lunatic fringe and a reminder of the World War II era when the Nazis occupied Greece and were fought ferociously by the Greek resistance. Greek media said Golden Dawn’s showing, gaining the party 21 seats in the Parliament, was an indescribable embarrassment to the country.
It seemed after the results, which repudiated austerity and the two ruling parties who had dominated Greece for 38 years, left as the best hope for a coalition a New Democracy-Democratic Left partnership, the first and seventh-place finisher and another odd Right-Left hybrid. The Democratic Left also supports austerity, but its leader, Fotis Kouvelis, said he wants no part of it. “The results show people’s frustration and anger,” he said.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who at 38 led his party to its best election showing, ruled out the option of working with either New Democracy or PASOK and said he would try to form a coalition of parties opposed to the EU-IMF memorandum, starting with those on the left.
Tsipras said in a speech from his headquarters that the austerity policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is putting up much of the bailout bill to help Greece but insisted on the harsh measures, “have suffered a crushing defeat.” He said he would appeal to the “forces of the left” in a bid to form a coalition to “abolish the memorandum” of the bailout terms. “Their signatures have been undermined by the popular mandate,” he said, referring to the leaders of the outgoing coalition government. Tsipras said his party’s showing in the elections constituted a “strong message, to Greece and to Europe, to overturn the status quo” and “a message of peaceful revolution.” ”The peoples of Europe cannot be reconciled with barbaric memorandums,” he said.