Greek Elections & SYRIZA’s Win; a Peak into Future European Political Clashes to Come

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 Ingoing_Outgoing finance MinistersThe results of the Greek elections were largely anticipated in terms of vote distribution across parties. However, the realization of its potential political repercussions at the EU level primarily, and its expression of domestic change secondarily cause both nervousness and excitement.

At the domestic level SYRIZA’s win (36,64%) expresses a shift in political attitudes. A public worn down by clientelism, the crisis and austerity measures voted for the party that offered (marketed) political-renewal and hope through (relatively) new political faces and by placing high on the agenda the the Greek “humanitarian crisis”. Nonetheless, disappointment in the political system is highlighted by the lack of a parliamentary majority and a seven party parliament with the 3d runner up being Nazi-like Golden Dawn (GD) (6,28%).

SYRIZA has formed a coalition government with the anti-austerity right-wing-populist (and often racist/ anti-semite) Independent Greeks (ANEL) (4,75%), an uncomfortable (and disappointing) but strategic choice. The party aims to draw in right-wing voters lost to GD through ANEL; hoping to absorb its coalition partner in the long run as well.  Nonetheless, the coalition is a fragile one and will demand strong party discipline, this may prove hard as the Greek left is renowned for its splintering. While scandals over ANEL’s/ SYRIZA's ties to Russian oligarchs are breaking in; their validity remains to be confirmed.

At the same time New Democracy’s loss (27,81%) and the old socialist guard’s (PASOK) humiliation (4,68%) further underline the shift in political power and their struggle to remain relevant. ND ran a campaign using slogans that that eerily reminded of post-civil-war times or the late '60s during the military coup. The party that won elections in the past by addressing the middle ground seems squashed between out-dated conservatism and irrelevant right-wing notions. To make things worse the outgoing prime minister, Mr. Samaras, did not greet the incoming prime minister in a show of bad and bitter politics. While PASOK saw G. Papandreou ex-prime minister (PM) run with his own part as a result of internal squabbles that saw him ostracised almost 2 years ago. 

Greece is left with the hint of hope and political renewal in the air, as Mr. Tsipras is the youngest PM of the country and the first ever to be sworn in by political, not religious, oath. In addition, multiple popular/ populists policies were passed overnight; including raising the minimum wage above the average wage. Much remains to be seen while there are are new political parties in the government this does not necessitate political change or policy success.

At the EU/ international level there is concern as a team of largely inexperienced policymakers and academics head an anti-austerity government that nonetheless states it wants to remain in the euro. The new government is volatile: it halted the privatization of the national electricity provider and the port of Piraeus, it raised the minimum wage and re-hired public sector employees: all overnight and all contrary to major points of the austerity programme. International markets remain relatively stable indicating that Greece is a thorny issue but a manageable one; ring-fencing allows for an easier isolation in case of a default (unlikely). This seems more like negotiation-manoeuvring with SYRIZA hoping to gain extended maturities on the debt and bond buying from the ECB. While the troika and EU leaders aim to avoid a Grexit and debt write-off; results that can be brought back home as victories for both sides.

SYRIZA’s win represents something bigger; the potential rise of a South-European left-leaning government alliance unwilling to repay North-European liberal-conservative debtors; for example Spain through PODEMOS and/ or Italy through centre-left coalitions. The European impact is noticeable as leaders both on the right and left demanded fiscal responsibility along with their congratulations; statements from the left have been less demanding (see Hollande, Schultz).  In a game of chicken SYRIZA’s win has upped the stakes not just for Greece but more importantly for the EU project and in particular its political aspect; arguably the less developed sister of European integration. It has given prospects for the left in Europe after a period of ideological stagnation and threatens the liberal-right that faces the same problem. Ironically while SYRIZA’s win offers potential for a political shift on an EU scale, policy results at the national level are necessary to keep it alive.

image: straitstimes.com

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