ATHENS – With the critical June 17th elections that could determine Greece’s Eurozone fate now on the horizon, the continuing feud between pro-and-anti-austerity forces could lead Greece into yet more political instability and yet another election if no party wins outright or coalition talks collapse, as they did after the stalemated May 6th ballot.
The only other option is a coalition government that would not have the backing of a majority of Greeks and could set itself up for a quick downfall, analysts say. It depends on whether the bickering can stop and political leaders can set aside differences to come to a consensus as well as the acceptance of Greek citizens, now weary of elections, for whatever compromise may result.
The last polls allowed to be published showed the New Democracy Conservatives, who finished first in the May vote but with only 18.8 percent, locked in a tight duel with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which finished second the first time around but has been leading in some surveys. New Democracy and the PASOK Socialists, who finished third, back the 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) that provided a first bailout of $152 billion and is holding back a second for $173 billion until the election results are in.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has promised to cancel the memorandum with the Troika and even renege on the payments, but he also admitted that Greece would not be forced out of the Eurozone of 17 countries because the Troika fears the contagion would spread and bring down other countries or even the whole financial bloc.
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras may have to turn again to his dreaded rival, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, to try to form a coalition if together they can get enough votes to control the 300-member Parliament. However, some analysts say that would still leave them without the support of two-thirds of voters and Greek society as a whole, which continues to oppose the austerity measures but wants to stay in the Eurozone, a contradictory dilemma facing the next government. The Troika has also insisted on another $15 billion in cuts, but Samaras and Venizelos, while they warn that Tsipras’ plans to renegotiate the bailout terms could bring a Greek exit from the Eurozone, now say they too want to re-negotiate some of the terms.
Political analysts John Loulis told Reuters that the Greek problem may be unsolvable in the short-term and that a coalition government without the support of a majority of Greeks could not last, opening the door for Tsipras to step in and take over. “We are talking about postponing the inevitable for a short time,” Loulis said. “It won’t last more than a few months,” he said of a minority coalition that would ironically be composed of the two parties who had ruled Greek politics for nearly four decades.
But if Tsipras wins and is able to form a coalition with some of the other four anti-bailout parties who won enough votes in May to enter Parliament (excluding the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party with whom no one wants to work), an anti-austerity Leftist government will likely find there is not enough money for him to fulfill his promise to restore pay, repeal tax hikes and raise pensions back to their former level. The Troika has said any attempt to tinker with reforms could lead to the money pipeline being shut off but has itself proved more willing to negotiate, seeing the rise of Tsipras.
“This round is like a runoff election, with the two of them going for top spot,” Takis Theodorikakos, head of GPO pollsters, told Reuters. “SYRIZA is sticking to its guns, trying to rally leftist voters, and New Democracy is campaigning on a euro-or-drachma dilemma.” A conservative official told Reuters that, “We want the bailout to change but we want to stay in the euro.” A party aide said, “The debate is about drachma or euro, catastrophe or growth.”
The political uncertainty and fears of Greece being forced back to the drachma have cut deep into the beginning of the tourism season, with bookings falling as much as 50 percent, particularly from Germany, as Greece has been embroiled in at times bitter arguments with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is footing much of the bailout bill and is insisting on more austerity, infuriating Greeks.
At the same time, Greeks, who do not want to leave the Eurozone, have been buried under austerity, reeling from 21.7 percent unemployment, an average of 1,000 business closures a week, and tax revenues falling short of expectations, making it even more imperative for a government to be formed as soon as possible.