Greece: Political earthquake sees pro-austerity parties’ support collapse

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% in the last elections to 13.2% (41 seats). In the past three decades, the combined vote of the two “ruling” parties varied between 75% and 85% of the vote.

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).

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 and all those suffering under austerity. 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, 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!

The KKE and Antarsya paid for their approach in the polls. Their votes remain stagnant: the KKE rose by just 1% and Antarsya finished on 1.19%, with no MPs.

Can a new government be formed?

New Democracy’s leader, Antonis Samaras, announced that his party had failed in its bid to create a “national salvation” government.

If Syriza fails to form a government, the initiative goes to Pasok, and if that fails, to the Greek president, who can try to assemble a coalition.

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.

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?

Xekinima (CWI Greece) supports the call by Syriza 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 cooperation with the bosses’ parties, which would be a disastrous trap.

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.

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. 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.

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