Despite a loss of some 3.8 percent to the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in European Parliament elections, Greece’s Prime Minister and New Democracy conservative leader Antonis Samaras said his coalition with the PASOK socialists has endured and there won’t be early national balloting.
Samaras, though, was said to be licking his wounds enough to consider yet another Cabinet reshuffle as SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras touted an historic win by a far-leftist party and said the government’s defeat was a referendum against the ongoing austerity measures it imposed on orders of international lenders.
Samaras didn’t agree and said his administration would forge on as though nothing had changed. The vote coincided with that for local municipalities that showed SYRIZA doing well in Attica and the Athens area but New Democracy still dominant around the country despite being blamed for big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings.
With most of the results in the morning of May 26, SYRIZA had 26.5 percent in the European balloting to 22.7 percent for New Democracy. The next biggest surprise was the strong showing of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in third with 9.3 percent although all its 18 lawmakers have been jailed or arrested pending trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
PASOK, which had fallen to 3-5 percent in polls, benefited from tying itself to a new center-left alliance Elia, or Olive Tree, which came fourth at nearly 8 percent.
Greek Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who was made Samaras’ Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister in return for backing austerity, had warned that a poor showing for him could have brought down the government anyway and New Democracy and Elia had a combined vote larger than SYRIZA, keeping the current political dynamic.
Despite the SYRIZA victory, Samaras said the leftists had not made significant gains from their total vote over its showing in the 2012 general elections, an indicator that the government would proceed as if nothing had happened.
Although he lost, Samaras said he won. “Those who tried to turn the EU election into a plebiscite failed,” he said in a brief televised address. “They failed to create conditions of instability, uncertainty and political ungovernability.”
But while there won’t be snap elections he said he would listen to the voters. “I know we have been through two difficult years,” added the premier. “I have travelled throughout Greece and listened to citizens. I understand their problems and I known what must change. We will move forward as quickly as possible.” He didn’t explain what that meant.
Venizelos said what he called SYRIZA’s “blackmail” had failed. “SYRIZA’s rhetoric was met with indifference by the majority of people,” he said as Elia, or Olive Tree, performed slightly better than opinion polls had suggested.
Tsipras, who said if he comes to power he would revise terms of 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in two bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) or renege, insisted the results showed there are still serious questions about the government’s viability.
“With what moral and political legitimacy will Mr. Samaras negotiate the issue of debt relief based on these percentages?” asked Tsipras. “With what moral and political legitimacy will he impose new, tough measures and the new memorandum he has agreed but is keeping locked up in his drawer?”
The SYRIZA leader called for general elections “as soon as possible.”
While the elections were only to send representatives to Brussels and the European Parliament, which had almost no power, they were seen as a measure of political strength.
The new populist To Potami (The River) group, which had been running third, fell to fifth but garnered 6.6 percent. It was formed by former TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis who said he wanted to shake up the mainstream parties.
“To Potami will challenge for the responsibilities that a new political force, which has no loans from the past but has young people, must challenge for with the aim of changing everything,” said Theodorakis. But despite its rebellious stance, he said he would be willing to work with both SYRIZA and New Democracy, who aren’t willing to work with each other.
To Potami was followed by the Communist Party (KKE) at 6 percent and Independent Greeks with 3.4 percent. The Democratic Left (DIMAR), a former member of the coalition which left in a dispute over worker firings, fell to 1.5 percent, discredited by its support for austerity, and out of the running.
The results mean SYRIZA will elect six MEPs, New Democracy five, Golden Dawn three, Elia, KKE and To Potami two and Independent Greeks one for the 700-member European Parliament.