Reflecting on the Greek parliamentary elections
Antonis Klapsis is assistant professor at University of Peloponnese
The results of the elections
The outcome of the national elections that took place in Greece on July 7th was a landslide victory of the centre-right party of New Democracy which captured 39.85% of the vote and 158 seats in the 300-member parliament, thus securing an absolute majority. As a result, for the first time after many years an one-party government has been formed. This development marks the end of successive coalition governments which were the result of the political upheaval created by the economic crisis: it is characteristic that the last time that a political party managed to secure an absolute majority was in 2009, i.e. ten years ago, just before the crisis swept the Greek economy.
The elections led to the defeat of SYRIZA, the leftwing party led by Alexis Tsipras. After four and a half years in government, they lost because many people got fed up not only with the fact that the failed to deliver most of their great promises, but also with the arrogance of many of SYRIZA’s high-profile figures. However, SYRIZA was not devastated. They got 31.53% of the vote and secured 86 seats in the Parliament. They only lost 4% and less that 150,000 votes in comparison to the last legislative elections that took place in September 2015. They also managed to significantly increase their percentage in comparison to the result of the recent elections for the European Parliament when they got 23,75%.
Four smaller parties managed to overcome the threshold of 3% and enter the Greek Parliament. Two are old and established: the centre-left Movement for Change (the remains of the once mighty Panhellenic Socialist Movement – PASOK) which secured 8.10% of the vote and 22 seats in the Parliament; and the Communist Party which got 5.30% and 15 seats. Two are new: the nationalist and populist pro-Russian Greek Solution which got 3.70% and 10 seats; and, the leftist MeRA25 of the former Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis which got 3.44% and 9 seats.
On the contrary, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn did not manage to get more than 3% and thus they will not be represented in the Greek Parliament. After successive positive results after 2012, Golden Dawn saw its popularity diminishing. This is without a doubt one of the positive developments associated with the recent elections. Many of the party’s most prominent figures, including its leader, are still under prosecution for their involvement in the murder of 34-year-old rap singer Pavlos Fyssas back in September 2013.
What lies ahead?
The new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in and quickly announced the members of his cabinet. Alongside with established people of New Democracy, some well-known figures with a centre-left political background as well as many new faces are included in this cabinet. Quite a few of them are technocrats and from the world of business: this marks a new approach on governance and most probably is characteristic of a new style in dealing with the management of governmental work.
The newly-formed government has many challenges to deal with. Mitsotakis has promised to give a significant boost to the stagnated Greek economy, which in turn will lead to the creation of new jobs, thus breaking the vicious circle of underdevelopment and high unemployment rates. In order to do so, he needs to attract foreign investment. Reduction of taxes is also of the essence, as taxation in Greece is unthinkably high. Another issue very high in his agenda will be the fight against criminality and the restoration of the sense of public order and security that has drastically deteriorated in the last four years.
No matter what the priorities are, the new government will not have much time to spare. They seem to be very well prepared. What is certain is that they need to act fast and decisively. If not, they will soon find themselves trapped under the problems that will remain unsolved. Judging from past experience, it might not be long before even internal conflicts begin within New Democracy.
SYRIZA has undoubtedly solidified its dominant position in the centre-left to left part of the political spectrum. SYRIZA might feel some pressure from the left from MeRA25 and its flamboyant leader Varoufakis, but it is not probable that MeRA25 will become a serious threat for SYRIZA. In SYRIZA, Tsipras leadership remains practically unquestioned. He is the main asset of SYRIZA. Without him, the party would most probably have never been nearly as successful as it has been ever since 2012.
What remains to be seen is how SYRIZA will behave as a major opposition party. Some analysts argue that Tsipras will take advantage of this situation in order to fully transform SYRIZA into a social-democratic party. This seems like the rational choice from a political and an electoral point of view. Tsipras and SYRIZA have changed a lot in the last five years: for example, initially they were best friends with Pablo Iglesias and PODEMOS, but gradually they seem to be feeling more and more comfortable with Pedro Sánchez and PSOE. On the other hand, there are reasons to believe that SYRIZA will not entirely change its radical leftist political DNA and thus return –at least up to a certain degree– to its old fierce opposition tactics, such as fostering dynamic public protests against the government. Political realism is one thing, political instinct is another.
For the Movement for Change the main challenge will most probably be not to be crushed between New Democracy and SYRIZA. The result of the elections points to the direction of the recreation of a two-party system, as New Democracy and SYRIZA secured in total more than 70% of the popular vote. The danger for the Movement for Change is to see quite a few from its members and its voters to move either to the right (i.e. towards New Democracy) or to the left (i.e. towards SYRIZA). The Socialists were the ones worst affected by the post-2009 economic crisis, paying the highest price in electoral terms. Now they might face and even greater threat.
Populism was defeated in the Greek elections and pro-EU political parties prevailed. However, populism still remains a significant driving force in Greek politics. Greece was one of the EU countries mostly affected by populism during the recent economic crisis. The optimists might see in the results of the Greek elections a turning point for the retreat of populism at a pan-European level. However, the result of the elections does not change the fact that Greece is still facing a number of important problems. The need for deep reforms is now more apparent than ever. If the new government succeeds in dealing with these problems, then it is possible that a virtuous circle will start for Greece. If not, then we might see a new version of the ancient Greek myth: the daughters of Danaus carrying a jug full of water to fill a bathtub that was constantly leaking and thus eternally remaining empty despite the great efforts for the contrary.