FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Caution Wins the Day in Greece

by PATRICK COCKBURN

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.

May 02, 2016
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail