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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Syriza au cœur du jeu politique grec en dépit des pressions

by Fabien Perrier

Syriza at Heart of Greek Politics Despite Pressure

Translated Thursday 14 June 2012, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The Greeks are to vote again on June 17, while the EU and a number of European countries pressure them with threatened expulsion from the euro zone in order to prevent the expected breakthrough of the radical left, which rejects austerity.

The “second round.” This is the name that the Greeks have bitterly and ironically given to the June 17 legislative elections. However, this is not a second round of elections; it is a supplementary vote. On the evening of May 6, following several days of negotiations, no majority could be formed to constitute a government or coalition government. Hence the necessity of calling new elections.

The May 6 vote resulted in a veritable metamorphosis of the Greek political scene. Whereas, following the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, two parties – PASOK (social-democrats) and New Democracy (ND, right-wing) alternated in power, the radical left coalition Syriza came in second (16.8% of the vote), right behind ND (18.85%). PASOK shriveled to 13.8%. Despite ND obtaining the 50-seat bonus (out of 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament, the Vouli) that goes to the party with the most votes, no governing majority could be formed.

The fall of the “traditional” governing parties is the consequence of the policies they have pursued since 2010. The socialist George Papandreou had hardly taken power in October 2009 when he turned his back on his campaign promises. Greece, under attack from the financial markets, called for an “aid plan” from the troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund). Papandreou was supported by the majority of the deputies in his party even though, with each new bout of austerity measures, a few left PASOK.

When Papandreou resigned in November 2011, a government “of national union” was formed, headed by Lucas Papademos, the former vice president of the European Central Bank. The governing coalition included PASOK, ND, and LAOS, a far-right party. The policies remained the same: respect for the “memorandums,” the documents that had been signed in exchange for loans from the troika. The memorandums impose all-out austerity on Greece and aim at structural reforms and domestic devaluation. As a consequence, unemployment is continuing to rise (21.9%), poverty is spreading, the labor market has been rendered “flexible,” union contracts have been abandoned in favor of individual job contracts, and public services have been privatized, etc. The economic situation is deteriorating and Greece is in recession for the fifth straight year.

These policies and their consequences were massively rejected by most Greeks on May 6. The voters cast their ballots for the “anti-memorandum” parties that oppose austerity. The left conducted a campaign for abandoning austerity. In addition to Syriza, which is led by Alexis Tsipras, the anti-austerity left includes the KKE (Greek Communist Party) led by Aleka Papariga (8.48% of the vote), and the Democratic Left led by Fotis Kouvelis (6.11%).

On the right, the Independent Greeks, an anti-memorandum split from ND, obtained 10.6% of the vote. More worrying, the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn entered Parliament with 6.97% of the vote, while LAOS failed to obtain the 3% of the vote necessary for representation in Parliament. All in all, the voters massively rejected the parties that had dominated political life since the fall of the military dictatorship, turned to cronyism, and shouted their rejection of the plans dictated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Greek citizens are reacting to the pressure they are under today to return PASOK and New Democracy to power. PASOK and ND are the two parties that favor the austerity plans defined by the different memorandums.

Syriza, which was leading in the latest polls, wants to revoke these plans, to conduct an audit and to renegotiate the debt, while clearly proclaiming its desire to maintain the country in the euro zone. It also asserts the necessity of a different European policy, notably including a different role for the European Central Bank, which should be authorized to make low-interest rate loans directly to member countries.

In short, Syriza’s orientations are those which the European leaders do not want to hear mentioned, notable because these orientations call into question the free market capitalist order on which European integration is based. They are threatening to exclude Greece from the euro. And for them, all means are good for discrediting Syriza, all the more so as the Syriza coalition, which has filed party statutes that ensure it obtaining the 50-seat bonus if it wins at the polls, will then have to take on the formidable job of finding coalition partners. The KKE has already announced it rejects any participation in government.

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