international analysis and commentary

The new Greek government: SYRIZA, condemned to succeed


Those who voted for SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) in the January 25th elections, can proudly claim, and with due justification, that they participated in the making of Greek contemporary history.

It is the first time the Left has won parliamentary elections with 36.34% of the vote and 149 parliamentary seats out of 300 – nearly the 151 needed for an autonomous government.  As a result, SYRIZA will form a coalition with the Independent Greeks –  a newly formed politically conservative party that campaigned against the measures imposed by the “Troika” and won 13 seats –  to form a government and position itself to nominate and elect the next president of the republic.

The Greek people voted under conditions of a social and economic crisis not experienced since the country suffered German-Italian-Bulgarian occupation during the Second World War. For the fifth consecutive year, the mainstream media played lip service to the deteriorating situation and focused its attention on explaining and justifying the measures the government was taking. This creative presentation of the existing situation can be explained by the fact that such media belongs to and is controlled by a group of financiers widely known as “national contractors” whose success comes from their ability to win lucrative state contracts and concessions.

The election period was dominated by an ever-increasing fear campaign orchestrated by the then-governing party New Democracy. In case of a political change, New Democracy was promising a disaster while SYRIZA was promising change for the better. In view of the scale of the present crisis it was logical that this fear campaign would be rejected by the majority of the people. In this game of fears the New Democracy party welcomed statements by EU officials and assorted ministers of EU governments, interfering in the internal affairs of a member state – a practice they would condemn if they were subjected to it.  A similar campaign was tested in the 2012 elections and replayed this time around on a society witnessing a continuous deterioration in its living conditions.

Of the 16 political parties that participated in the elections, SYRIZA and New Democracy were the main contenders. For third place, the competition was between the socialist PASOK, the other partner of the former government, the fascist Golden Dawn, with some members soon to stand trial for criminal activities, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the River (To Potami).

The River merits a closer examination as it represents a very well-orchestrated political oddity. It is not only a party with no political program but also the product of political parthenogenesis according to its self-appointed leader Stavros Theodorakis. A well-connected journalist, he immediately won the attention and the affection of the mainstream mass media where he has been skillfully established as a television persona. As the Greek society is manifestly worn down by the economic and social consequences of the present crisis, this party promoted a non-political approach to this most political scenario. Although this is a contradiction in terms and in practice, the River succeeded in winning 6% of the vote and 17 seats in parliament. It is the third ranking party in number of seats along with Golden Dawn which won 6.28% of the vote.

SYRIZA, lacking only two seats to achieve a majority, had two options: form a government by itself and ask the parliament for a “vote of tolerance” (this option, essentially a neutral stance with no confidence vote, was quickly abandoned), or form a coalition with one of the other parties and achieve a comfortable majority.

In theory, the candidates for cooperation, other than the Independent Greeks and excluding Golden Dawn, are the River, the KKE with 5.47% of the vote and 15 seats and PASOK with 4.68% of the vote and 13 seats.

In a perfect socialist world the obvious choice for SYRIZA would have been the KKE. However, because the world is neither perfect nor socialist, this obvious choice did not come to exist due to the adamant refusal of the KKE to proceed in any form of cooperation with SYRIZA. Cooperation with PASOK was out of question because it is held equally responsible, along with New Democracy, for the imposed austerity measures.

Even before the elections the River had expressed its eagerness for cooperation with SYRIZA. However its heralded supposed advantage, when addressing voters, of not having a political program turns into a boomerang when the possibility of a political cooperation is under examination. In addition to its deliberate vagueness regarding the Troika memoranda and the fact that it has drawn in all the dissatisfied political personalities from the other small parties definitely does not help the ideological clarity of this party. On the other hand, the Independent Greeks with whom SYRIZA is forming the coalition government, have a clearly right-wing ideology.

It seems that the common ground on which these two parties meet to cooperate is their strong opposition to the imposed austerity measures and the crisis that followed. The question is whether this common ground is solid enough to sustain the pressures from two parties with such a different political ideology.  However it must be noted that this common ground is additionally and most importantly reinforced by strong social pressure for long-waited change.

In fact we are witnessing the start of a political avalanche bound to sweep through Southern Europe with Spain on the front lines. The victory of SYRIZA is forcing the leadership of the EU to abandon its self-imposed rigidity and pay attention to political movements which put forward alternative solutions to this imposed crisis. In spite of the obvious difficulties, SYRIZA is condemned to succeed, as too many people are expecting this – and not only in Greece.