Comment: Clash of more than just political parties
GREECE went to the polls yesterday for its most critical election in decades.
The two main contenders, the conservatives of New Democracy and the radical left Syriza, fought neck-and-neck for pole position, which would bring them closer to forming a governing coalition.
New Democracy came to represent stability and predictability for an uncompromised future of Greece within the eurozone. Syriza, on the other hand, represented hope and belief that an alternative to the draconian austerity measures on which the EU/IMF bail-out agreement is conditional is possible and should be pursued.
Both rationales hold much resonance among the Greek people, who are worried about the consequences of a euro exit but simultaneously suffer from austerity fatigue after two years of unfruitful sacrifices.
In the end, New Democracy claimed victory with a small but clear lead of 1-3 per cent over Syriza. Early results show that both parties have significantly increased their electoral share by over 10 per cent compared to the 6 May election, which is indicative of the degree of polarisation that preceded this campaign. Meanwhile, the vote for smaller parties was squeezed but did not prevent the ultra nationalist right-wing group Golden Dawn from entering Parliament – the sub plot to this election.
The main story, however, which kept global audiences hooked in anticipation of the result is that the pro-austerity camp has prevailed, albeit marginally. This will bring a sigh of relief to European leaders, none more than Angela Merkel, who were alarmed about the prospect of seeing the Greek bail-out agreement torn up, as suggested by some forces within Syriza.
New Democracy and its leader Antonis Samaras will still need the support of at least one more party, since it was not able to secure a majority of its own in Parliament. Unlike May, however, the formation of a governing coalition should be straightforward. At minimum, a coalition with Socialist and pro-austerity Pasok would suffice. To increase the political legitimacy and strength of the coalition, however, the participation of at least one of the anti-austerity parties will be sought and is likely to be achieved. This would mean that the voices of a majority within Greece that oppose the draconian measures will be represented in the government and will contribute to any negotiations about softening the terms of the bailout agreement.
Greece is thus expected to exit a period of political instability with a strong governing coalition. The road to economic recovery, however, remains thorny and long and more austerity alone is unlikely to be politically, socially or economically sustainable. In a strange twist of fortune, the future of Greece in the euro, in both politics and football, will thus depend on how it negotiates its next meetings with Germany.
• Dr Georgios Karyotis is a lecturer in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde and secretary of the Greek Politics Specialist Group.
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