The three parties in Greece’s uneasy coalition government are paying a high price for their unremitting support of more austerity measures, with polls showing the ruling New Democracy Conservatives have fallen behind the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is surging fast while the once-dominant PASOK Leftists have fallen to last place among the six parties in Parliament.
On the same day that 70,000 Greeks were demonstrating in Athens against more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions being planned by the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a poll by the survey company VPRC put SYRIZA first with 30.5 percent, compared to 27 percent for New Democracy.
Golden Dawn, which got only 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009 when it was considered an extremist fringe party, is now in third with 14 percent, double what it received in June when it won 18 seats in the Parliament.
As Golden Dawn presses its anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-bailout, ultra-religious platform it is gaining with each extreme move, the poll indicated. The party is also benefiting from its fierce opposition to austerity measures that are attached to $325 billion in rescue loans from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank.
The biggest surprise, however, was the 5.5 percent given to PASOK, less than half the 12.3 percent it won in June. The party had 44 percent of the vote in the 2009 elections which it won, but is disappearing after former premier George Papandreou’s regime imposed austerity, which is still being backed by its new leader, Evangelos Venizelos.
He and Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis make up the junior partners in Samaras’ government, which is seeking to pass another $17.45 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes to release a delayed $38.8 billion loan from the Troika. Earlier polls the Democratic Left at about 4 percent, barely about the 3 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament under election rules. In more bad news for Samaras, the poll showed nearly 90 percent of Greeks believe he has the country on the wrong track by going along with more austerity measures and no visible plans to help Greece recover from its crushing economic crisis.
A bewildered Venizelos, who has vacillated over support or opposition for austerity and is a despised figure to many Greeks because, as finance minister under Papandreou, he doubled income and property taxes, has called for a critical gathering of his party in February, a congress he said could decide PASOK’s fate.
He may not make it that far as a number of party stalwarts said they are bailing out of PASOK and a rebel faction within wants him to dissociate himself and the party from the austerity measures before it disappears.
“Our aim is to transform PASOK into a modern, institutional, democratic party,” Venizelos said during a meeting of the Socialists’ political and organizational secretariat. “We want a PASOK that will not represent the rearguard forces of supposed leftism, which represent privileges and reactionary behavior,” Venizelos added in a clear dig at SYRIZA, which has run past PASOK.
During the meeting, it emerged that several of PASOK’s 33 MPs want the party to take a more active role in the coalition government. Venizelos had prevented any of the party’s lawmakers from joining the Cabinet following the June elections. Venizelos also has given clear public backing to Samaras, PASOK’s major rival.
“He speaks on behalf of all us, he speaks on behalf of the country,” he told PASOK members ahead of Samaras’ appearance at the European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels on Oct. 18. But several of his party’s Members of Parliament said they are dismayed at the lack of leadership and the way it is being run, discontented over his awkward handling of a list of 2,000 Greek depositors in the Geneva branch of HSBC. He failed to act on it or check for possible tax evasion while he was finance minister.