Greece: Political earthquake sees pro-austerity parties’ support collapse — Left presented with big opportunities
May 9, 2012
Following the recent elections in Greece, which saw two out of three voters vote against pro-austerity parties and a big swing to left parties, Niall Mulholland spoke to Andros Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI in Greece).
What do the election results represent?
The parliamentary election results in Greece were a political earthquake, a crushing repudiation of the pro-austerity parties and the ‘Troika’ (International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank). This follows years of austerity measures that have led to a collapse in living standards, 51% youth unemployment and mass poverty.
The outgoing government coalition parties suffered a massive collapse in support. The traditional conservative party, New Democracy, fell from just over 33% in 2009 to 18.85% (108 MPs, which includes the 50 seat bonus received by the first party, according to Greek electoral law). Pasok, the traditional social democratic party, crashed from 43.9 percent in the last elections to 13.18% (41 seats). In the past three decades, the combined vote of the two “ruling” parties varied between 75% and 85% of the vote. Laos, the small right wing party that joined New Democracy and Pasok in the austerity coalition for a few months, lost all its MPs.
The biggest gains went to the broad left, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left), which rose from 4.6% to 16.78% (52 seats). The communist party (KKE) won 8.48% (26 MPs). The Democratic Left, which split from Syriza in 2010 on a more right wing path, but which also attacked austerity cuts, won 6.1%.
This major swing to the left by Greek voters shows the huge potential for a bold socialist alternative to the capitalist crisis and austerity cuts.
However, serving as a warning to the workers’ movement, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, exploiting the anti-cuts mood and issues over immigration, picked up 6.97%. For the first time, this far right party entered parliament, with 21 MPs. The Independent Greeks, a recent right wing nationalist split from New Democracy, also entered parliament, with 10.6% (33 MPs).
While the election results revealed a polarisation along left and right lines, many workers and youth saw no viable alternative on offer and simply did not vote for any party. Abstention was much higher than predicted, at a record 35%, and ‘blank’ and invalid votes stood at 2.4%.
Why did Syriza gain so many votes?
Syriza gained support over the last two weeks of the election campaign mainly by appealing for a ‘Left government’ against the Troika’s ‘memorandum’.
The supporters of Xekinima pioneered the call for a Left ‘united front’ and for a vote for the parties of the left, over the last months. Unlike Syriza leaders, Xekinima did not call for a ‘renegotiation’ of the crushing austerity measures, but for a Left government to carry out a programme to defend working people. This would include repudiating the debt, stopping all cuts, nationalising the main banks and industries, under democratic workers’ control and management, and fighting for a socialist Europe, as opposed to the bosses’ EU - breaking with the diktat of the Troika and capitalism, in general.
The other main forces on the Left in Greece, the communist party (KKE) and Antarsya (the Anti-capitalist Left Cooperation) both took a sectarian attitude and rejected Syriza’s ‘left unity’ proposal. Yet if the left had formed an electoral bloc, they would probably now be in a position to form a government! With millions of workers yearning for an anti-cuts left government, the KKE and Antarsya paid for their approach in the polls. Their votes remain virtually stagnant: the KKE rose by just 1% (under 19,000) to 8.48% (26 MPs) and Antarsya finished on 1.19%, with no MPs.
Can a new government be formed?
Under the Greek constitution, New Democracy, as the largest party, was given three days to try to form a new government. But its leader, Antonis Samaras, announced on Monday after just a few hours that his party had failed in its bid to create a “national salvation” government.
Given the unambiguous anti-austerity verdict of the electorate, no parties entering a coalition government can do so without at least pledging to renegotiate the ‘memorandum’ with the Troika.
The Troika may be prepared to re-negotiate over aspects of the memoranda and to make some minor concessions. But the Troika will not agree to end its central demands for huge debt repayments from Greece, which can only come at the cost of yet more enormous cuts to welfare, jobs and living standards. The question of Greek membership of the eurozone and even the EU will, most probably, quickly be placed on the agenda.
Greek politics is entering very stormy waters. The invitation to form a government fell to Syriza, the second biggest party. If it fails, the initiative goes to Pasok, and if that fails, to the Greek president, who can try to assemble a coalition.
The combined strength of the Syriza and the KKE, even together with the Democratic Left, in parliament is not enough to form a majority government and, to date, the KKE has refused to accept Syriza’s proposal.
Failure to form a new government would eventually lead to new elections. The ruling class has additional reasons to dread this prospect, as most probably it will lead to Syriza becoming the largest party.
What must the left do now?
Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, said he will strive to form a “left-wing coalition” to reject the "barbaric" measures associated with the EU/IMF bailout deal.
Xekinima (CWI Greece) supports the call for a left government coalition but it must be a government fully committed to opposing all austerity cuts and the bosses’ EU, rejecting the debt repayments and carrying out pro-worker policies, not ‘renegotiating’ for ‘milder’ cuts and ‘more generous’ loan repayments, which still means a lowering of Greek living standards. The Syriza leadership must oppose any coalition or co-operation with the bosses’ parties, which would be a disastrous trap.
There is now a great opportunity for Syriza to publicly put forward a programme for a workers’ government. It is true that according to parliamentary arithmetic the left do not have enough MPs to form such a government. Furthermore, the KKE leadership has, so far, refused to co-operate with Syriza. But huge pressure needs to come from trade unionists, social movement activists and the rank and file of the KKE and Syriza, to insist that both parties reject sectarianism and any ‘cuts-lite’ policies based on ‘re-negotiated’ austerity. The workers’ movement activists want genuine left unity, preparing the ground to form a new left government in the near future.
A programme to unite Syriza and the KKE around opposition to all austerity measures and the EU diktats, for cancellation of the debt and nationalisation of the main banks and industries under democratic workers’ control and for socialist change, as the basis of a workers’ government, would win widespread support from the working class, youth and ruined middle class. It would inspire a resurgence of mass action in the workplaces and communities.
If an attempt is made to form yet another cuts-making coalition, based around Pasok and ND, the left and workers’ movement needs to organise mass opposition, including general strikes and workplace occupations, to stop such attempts, which have no mandate.
Last weekend’s election makes clear that a majority government of the left is possible. If new elections take place in June, the left parties will have a great opportunity to win a majority. This requires the left parties adopting socialist policies – a rejection of the debt repayments and a struggle to break with the bosses’ EU and the profit-system. It also means a strong united front of the left and workers’ movement against the threat of the neo-fascist and far right.
If the left fails to offer a viable socialist alternative, the far right can partially fill the space and grow, and the ruling class will also seek to deploy more authoritarian measures against the workers’ movement resisting cuts.