On September 20th, Greeks voted in the latest general elections that were characterized by big questions on the economy and Europe. The results, though somewhat unexpected, point toward a fairly stable start for the new coalition.
SYRIZA emerged as the winner of the latest Greek elections with a comfortable lead of 7,4 points, disproving both the opinion surveys and the exit polls, which predicted the election would be too close to call.
However, the party received only 35,5% of the vote and 145 seats, falling short of getting an absolute majority (151 in a 300-seat parliament). The center right New Democracy came second with 28,1% and 75 seats.
Despite the economic deterioration, capital controls, return to recession, and political inconsistency to abandon the anti-bailout platform in order to adopt a third bailout programme, Tsipras lost only 0,9% compared to the previous elections held eight months ago.
It seems that, in the January elections, only a small part of SYRIZA’s voters had actually believed in Tsipras’ pledge to scrap the memoranda. Most of these voters chose to abstain this time, given that the incumbent party received 320,000 less votes than in the previous national poll.
The Blame Game
The majority of SYRIZA’s electoral base did not expect Tsipras to abolish the bailout, but they at least expected him to ease austerity terms and improve the state of the economy. Of course, Tsipras failed to deliver — the third memorandum hardens the austerity terms, and the economy has fallen back to recession.
But it seems that the majority of the public does not perceive the state of the economy as worse than it was under the previous ND-led government. One of the reasons might be that austerity measures have not yet been implemented, given that the third bailout received parliamentary approval in the middle of August.
In addition, people do not seem convinced that the former ND-led government would have achieved a better deal. According to opinion polls published in July, voters appear not to blame Tsipras for the closure of the banks and the capital controls, but rather the Europeans. Therefore, no protest vote appeared in these elections.
In other words, the majority of SYRIZA’s voters accepted Tsipras’ narrative: Alhough he negotiated hard with the creditors, he failed to achieve his goals completely, and now asks for a second chance to fight back.
As a result, the majority reckons that SYRIZA is now in a better position to defend the interests of the most vulnerable compared to its main rival, the New Democracy party. The New Democracy party, in spite of the popularity of its new leader, Evangelos Meimarakis, failed to restore its image and convince voters that it could secure Greece’s rise from the economic crisis.
Another day, another coalition
SYRIZA has formed a coalition government with the right-wing party of Independent Greeks, and now enjoys a parliamentary majority of 155 seats. The question now is how united, stable, and efficient the new government will prove to be, considering the implementation of a demanding bailout programme.
After the departure of the anti-euro, anti-bailout faction of the Left Platform from SYRIZA, headed by Panagiotis Lafazanis, the SYRIZA party is much more united than before. Yet, within the party, a new left-wing faction – the so called “Group of 53” consisting of prominent party officials, MPs, and prospective Ministers – seems willing to make it difficult for parliament to approve certain bailout policies, as well as to delay their implementation.
However, in the short run it is less likely to create problems. In case it decides to abandon the SYRIZA party and consequently bring about a government collapse and new elections, the Group of 53 faces the fear of electoral failure. It is indicative that Popular Unity (a party founded by former SYRIZA MPs under the leadership of Lafazanis) failed to pass the 3% threshold to enter the parliament, since it took only 2,9% of the vote.
The good news is that the pro-bailout parties (SYRIZA, ANEL, ND, PASOK and Potami) received a total of 258 seats, so it is very likely that all the bailout bills will receive parliamentary approval, even if the pro-bailout opposition parties may differentiate in some respects by voting against particular austerity measures.
To conclude, the new parliament is largely pro-bailout, and the new coalition more coherent and united. This means it is more likely to promote the implementation of the memorandum, in order to pass the first review from Greece’s international creditors.