Caution Wins the Day in Greece


The Greek election produced a knife-edge result yesterday, with the establishment parties snatching victory in a narrow race.

“The Greek people voted today to stay on the European course and remain in the eurozone … there will be no more adventures, Greece’s place in Europe will not be put in doubt,” said the leader of New Democracy, Antonis Samaras, who is likely to become the new Prime Minister. The result may enable it to form a coalition government but it is likely to face strong opposition inside and outside parliament.

With more than 99 per cent of votes counted, interior ministry results showed the conservative New Democracy party securing 29.7 per cent of the vote. Its nearest rival, the radical-left Syriza, was only just behind on 26.9 per cent.

New Democracy is likely to form a coalition with the socialist Pasok party, which was in government until late last year and received 12.3 per cent of the vote, according to the results projections after 99 per cent of the ballots had been counted.

New Democracy is likely to have about 129 parliamentary seats, Syriza will have 71 and Pasok 33.

That outcome would, for the moment, allay fears that Greece will abandon the euro and spark a global financial crisis, as might have happened if the parties rejecting Greece’s austerity measures – accepted in return for €240bn in EU loans – had won a majority. But the neck-and-neck nature of the result means that uncertainty will continue.

In a poll crucial in Greek history, voters were asked to choose primarily between the establishment New Democracy party, which formally accepts the EU terms, and Syriza, which has said it would renegotiate them.

The surprise success of Alexis Tsipras, the inspirational Syriza leader, on 6 May had made him the subject of intense international scrutiny. Rivals feared that Syriza, which won 16.8 per cent in the first vote, increased its share substantially by winning support from people under 50 and from cities and towns. Many Syriza voters formerly voted for Pasok or the Communist KKE party.

New Democracy voters tend to be better-off, older and often live in the countryside. Mr Samaras sought with some success to cast the election in terms of Greeks choosing to stay in the eurozone and continuing to receive EU funding, or leaving it and risking an economic calamity.

The Greek business community and international investors were shocked by the rise of a radical alternative in the shape of the self-confident and fluent Mr Tsipras, though he steadily moderated his stance during the campaign. Some businesses, such as ship owners, threatened to leave the country, though one ship-broker asked: “Does it matter if we go broke in drachmas or euros?”

“I am driven by indignation against the political establishment and by hope for change,” said Chryssa Milona, a young mother clasping the hand of her daughter, after voting near Syntagma Square in central Athens. She said she voted Syriza “because people are suffering so much from unemployment and the fall in wages”. She would not reveal what her job was but said her salary had been cut by 15 per cent and she expected it to fall further. She was not sure Syriza would get anywhere but “at least it is different”.

The five-year-long crisis has polarized Greeks between left and right as old political fissures, stemming from the civil war and military dictatorship, have widened. Julia Oikeiadis, a retired travel agent, said she was voting for New Democracy because the most important thing was “to have a government and stabilize the country”.

She thought a victory for Mr Tsipras would be a calamity because he was young, inexperienced and making promises he could not fulfil. An allegation levelled by Mr Tsipras’s opponents was that he had pledged the impossible in promising to tear up the austerity memorandum signed last year with the EU “troika” (the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) and negotiate a better deal for Greece.

Mr Samaras had also suggested strongly in every speech that he would renegotiate after the poll. Even a traditional conservative voter like Ms Oikeiades said a government headed by New Democracy could implement part of the austerity program “but not all of it – to do all of it is absolutely impossible”.

Opinion polls show 80 per cent of Greeks want to stay in the euro but will not accept more austerity measures that have already seen taxes rise and wages, jobs, pensions and government expenditure cut.

Many people also argue that it is absurd for the other EU states to expect those whom many Greeks see as the corrupt and incompetent architects of their country’s ruin – the traditional leaders of New Democracy and its coalition partner Pasok – to clean up the mess they created. There is widespread anger that politicians notorious for their corruption and high living have escaped punishment.

Yesterday, some voters expressed worry that Greeks were not showing greater national solidarity. Yevgenia Perendiou, an unemployed nursery teacher now earning €400 a month as a babysitter, said: “I voted for the Democratic Left [which split from Syriza] because its leader, Fotis Kouvelis, said all parties should co-operate – something I didn’t hear from other leaders.”

The near dead-heat in the election does not bode well for decisive government in Greece. Pasok and the coalition with New Democracy implemented tax rises and wage and pension cuts but stalled over reforms such as privatization or dismantling the system of Tammany Hall-type cronyism and jobs for votes that had previously been at the heart of the political system.

Many of the beneficiaries of the old regime were prominent in electoral campaigns, suggesting that they had not lost their political strength.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”