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(Updated May 8) Greece: Austerity parties smashed, radical left makes big gains

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is calling on the non-PASOK left to unite to form government and abolish austerity policies.

By Yiorgos Vassalos

May 7, 2012 -- Ypsilo's Weblog -- The parties that have ruled the country since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974 -- New Democracy (Nea Dimokratia) and the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) -- have collapsed in the May 6 parliamentary elections. In all elections since 1974 (except 1990-91) one of these two parties was able to gain a clear majority in the parliament and form governement, jointly scoring from 70% to 90% of the vote. On May 6, their combined vote was 33%.

New Democracy has fallen from 33% in 2009  to 19%, and from 2.3 million votes to 1.2 million. PASOK has fallen from 44% to 13%, from 3 million votes to 800,000.

LAOS, the extreme right party that also supported the eurozone loan agreements and the anti-social memorandums, fell from 5.6% to 2.9% and from 386,000 to 182,000.

More than two-thirds of the population have declared that they are against the austerity memorandums in opinion polls, yet this majority has been ignored by the political forces that support the Eurozone loan agreements (Nea Dimokratia, PASOK, LAOS and extra-parliamentary liberal parties Action and Democratic Alliance). In the election, a clear majority of the vote was won by parties that campaigned in favour of the immediate cancellation of the loan agreements: 44% for SYRIZA, Independent Greeks, Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Parties that asked only for the renegotiation of the loan agreements or don’t have a clear position (Democratic Left, Greens, Creation) scored around 7.5%.

Parties that didn’t cross the 3% threshold to enter the parliament gathered 18% of the vote.

SYRIZA, the Coalition of Radical Left, scored an extraordinary vote, jumping from 4.6% to 17% and from 316,000 votes to 1 million. SYRIZA was by far the first in all big cities (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras) and to all working-class neighbourhoods. SYRIZA campaigned for an immediate abolition of the loan agreements and the anti-social memorandums but also for Greece staying in the eurozone. New Democracy came first almost everywhere in the countryside.

The radical left won a more important score than the far right (27% vs 20%). The three radical left parties all together won 27% (SYRIZA 17%, KKE 8.5%, Antarsya 1.2%). The two latter parties campaigned for the exit of Greece from the eurozone and the European Union.

Shockwaves have also been sent by the tremendous vote of the anti-immigrant, neo-Nazi criminal gang Golden Dawn, which scored 7% of the vote and jumped from 20,000 votes to 438,000. It is ironic that these racists got their best results in small cities with little immigration. Independent Greeks, a split from New Democracy, also focused on opposition to immigration and raised nationalist slogans. It won 11%. The extreme right LAOS, got 2.9% and didn’t enter the parliament. That makes a 21% for far right, up from around 6% in 2009. We have to take note though that New Democracy also campaigned under the slogan ”re-occupy our neighbourhoods from the immigrant ghettos”.

None of the far-right parties has an expressed position in favour of leaving the European Union.

The electoral law in Greece demonstrated its absurdity; it grants the party that cames first with a bonus 50 more seats. New Democracy thus gained 108 seats, SYRIZA 52, PASOK 41, Independent Greeks 33, KKE 26, Golden Dawn 21 and the Democratic Left 19.

New Democracy has a three days to form government. If it fails the mandate goes to the second party for the next three days, then to the third one and so on.

New Democracy and PASOK are calling for a broad pro-EU coalition. SYRIZA calls for a left-of-PASOK government. The leader of the Independent Greeks said his party won’t cooperate with PASOK and New Democracy and – quite speculatively – said he has common positions with SYRIZA on the debt and economy (however Independent Greeks' program supports privatisation whereas SYRIZA wants public control of the banks, energy and other industries). The Democratic Left said it would support a government that would change current policies and support a process of disengagement from the austerity memorandums. The leader of the KKE, Aleka Papariga has ruled out any possibility for cooperating with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which it describes as "new social democrats", who "spread illusions" among the people.

It is therefore probable that PASOK, New Democracy and the Democratic Left may form a government when the mandate goes to the third party, PASOK. Such a government would have 168 of the 300 seats but it will be politically very weak because the backbone will be formed by parties spectacularly punished by the popular vote. It would also imply a huge political cost for the third partner whether it is Democratic Left (which is the only one that leaves some openings for cooperation) or anybody else. SYRIZA still hopes to convince the Democratic Left and KKE to support it -- and then some MPs would quit the New Democracy and PASOK parliamentary groups.

The way that SYRIZA deals with these processes, but also whether the KKE abandons its failed tactic [of refusing to work with the radical left], which lost it thousands of votes in working-class municipalities of the big cities, will define the programmatic perspectives of the Greek left and whether a front for people’s power will be formed. Antarsya, which tripled its votes from 25,000 to 75,000, has also an important political role to play in this.

Results

1.  New Democracy 18.87%

2. SYRIZA (Coalition of Radical Left) 16.76%

3. PASOK (Socialdemocrats) 13.19%

4. Independent Greeks 10.6%

5. KKE (Communist Party) 8.48%

6. Golden Dawn (neo-Nazis) 6.97%

7. Democratic Left 6.1o%

8. Greens 2.93%

9. LAOS (Popular Orthodox Alarm) 2.9%

10. Democratic Alliance (Liberals) 2.6%

11. Creation Again! (Liberals) 2.15%

12. Action (Liberals) 1.8%

13. Antarsya (Anticapitalist Left Cooperation) 1.2%

Results from the website of the Ministry of Interior

[Slightly abridged fromYpsilo's Weblog. Yiorgos Vassalos is an activist and researcher with Corporate Europe Observatory.]

 

Tsipras lays out five points of coalition talks

May 8, 2012 -- Ekathimerini.com -- Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), runner-up in the May 6 general elections, presented the five points along which his discussions with minority party leaders will develop as he tries to form a coalition government after frontrunner New Democracy failed at the task on Monday.

Following a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias, who delivered the mandate to Tsipras, the 38-year-old politician said that "this is a historic moment for the left and a great challenge for me".

Addressing the press from parliament later and before embarking on a string of meetings with party and union leaders, Tsipras rejected the efforts of New Democracy and third-placed PASOK for a so-called "national salvation government", saying that a coalition of conservative and centrist forces would be a government "for the salvation of the memorandum" and would violate the mandate of the people, who have, "rejected the bailout agreement with their vote".

Tsipras challenged the two parties, who have ruled Greece for the past three decades but suffered a crushing defeat at the May 6 polls, to rescind their letters of guarantee to creditors saying that Greece would abide in full to the terms of the bailout deal, "if they truly regret what they have done to the Greek people".

On his upcoming talks to explore whether he will be able to form a majority coalition with parties of the left and parties representing environmental concerns, the head of SYRIZA -- which gleaned 16.78 per cent at the ballot box and won 52 seats in the 300-seat parliament -- laid out the five points that will be the focus of discussions:

  • The immediate cancellation of all impending measures that will impoverish Greeks further, such as cuts to pensions and salaries.
  • The immediate cancellation of all impending measures that undermine fundamental workers' rights, such as the abolition of collective labour agreements.
  • The immediate abolition of a law granting MPs immunity from prosecution, reform of the electoral law and a general overhaul of the political system.
  • An investigation into Greek banks, and the immediate publication of the audit performed on the Greek banking sector by BlackRock.
  • The setting up of an international auditing committee to investigate the causes of Greece's public deficit, with a moratorium on all debt servicing until the findings of the audit are published.

"We are not indifferent to whether the country will be governed or not, but we are primarily concerned with the direction in which the country will be governed and whether the people's mandate will be respected", Tsipras said.

The SYRIZA leader is expected to meet first with Fotis Kouvelis from Democratic Left (which received 6.1 per cent of the vote and 19 seats) and then with Ecologist Greens (2.93 per cent; no seats) representative Ioanna Kontouli and Social Pact (0.96 per cent; no seats) president Louka Katseli.

Earlier he spoke on the telephone with Greek Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga who rejected a face-to-face meeting. The Ecologist Greens, whose leader met with Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras on May 8, also said they would not back SYRIZA in its attempt to form a government and "hide behind an anti-memorandum" banner.

However, Louka Katseli, the PASOK rebel who heads the Social Pact party, that gleaned less than 1 per cent of the vote, said on May 8 that she would be open to the idea of cooperation with SYRIZA and the Democratic Left.

Tsipras has indicated that he will use the full three days at his disposal to talk with all the party leaders, including those of New Democracy and PASOK, but barring Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn). 

Comments

A Pre-revolutionary Situation

The election results should leave no doubts in anybodys' mind that a Greece has entered into a pre-revolutionary political state. The ruled will no longer accept being ruled in the old way, the rulers are no longer able to rule in the old way.

This is much akin to the fall of the Salazar regime in Portugal, of course with much different outlines and content, in that the results open the road to an anti-capitalist government based upon a mobilised mass workers movement. The results for Syriza in the working class areas of Greece, and even in places such as the island of Corfu, are simply astounding. There was an absolute rejection of the classical social democracy-PASOK, and of the "Third Period" Stalinist KKE (cousins to the sectarians of the Portugal CP) by the workers.

Contrary to the fears of the Antarsya, the SYRIZA is leadership has put forward a transitional governmental program to deal directly with the debt crisis, each element of which has won broad support in the Greek working class.

Immediately being handed the exploratory mandate which would give SYRIZA three days to form a government of the left, the SYRIZA declared that the exisiting memorandums, forced upon the Greek people by he IMF, World Bank, and European Central Bank are null and void. The basis of a left coalition government would be, according to SYRIZA the following:

1. An immediate moratorium on all debt payments until the legality of the debt was examined by an international audit commission (such as was carried out by Ecuador's new government of Rafeal Correa.)

2. The nationalisation of the banking sector, following an immediate investigation into the dealing of the banks, and the publishing of US hedge fund BLACKROCK's report on the sector.

3. The cancellation of all meaures lowering the social wages of Greeks, such as cuts in pensions, social services, etc.

4. The cancellation of all impending measures which would weaken workers rights, such as the proposed new Labour Law.

5. An immediate cancellation of the law giving MP's immunity from prosecution, an immediate overhaul of the election law which would, among other things, do away with the bonus 50 seats given to the party with the most votes.

If this program for governmental action doesn't start the ball rolling to a massive confrontation with the imperialist bourgeoisie,within the present context of the economic and social crisis of the EU, I don't know what else would. This program can gather around it the working class and the petite bourgeois being hammered by the crisis. It will be opposed by the PASOK (and in fact has been denounced by the social democrats) from the right, and opportunistically by the KKE who, showing the other face of its sectarian face, will try to position itself in such a manner that it will act as a guarantor of political stability.

It is in this context that ANTARSYA, which has a much greater influence in the mass movement than its electoral score showed, can intervene to build and mobilize in the streets and through the construction of neighbourhood and factory councils, the mass movement which can carry support for the governmental program of SYRIZA to a higher level, either by forcing the KKE to pledge support for the program or by setting the stage for mobilizations leading to new elections in June.

As SYRIZA has correctly pointed out, this represents an historic opportunity for the revolutionary Greek left. We know the KKE will fail this test. Will the other elements inside and outside ANTARSYA rise to the occasions?

From the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE)

May 7, 2012

Dear Comrades,

For your information, below you may find the final results of yesterday’s national elections, as well as some short information about the parties with parliamentary representation.

Despite the antidemocratic and absurd electoral law (*), our organization is now represented by 3 comrades in the Greek Parliament.

On this occasion, we want to sincerely thank the dozens of fraternal parties and organizations from all over the world who have sent to SYRIZA and to KOE their solidarity and congratulations. In these critical times, we are very much aware of our responsibility towards our people and also towards the international movement.

Tomorrow we will send a full statement about the ongoing important developments: because of the difficulty of the defeated pro-troika parties to form a government, the possibility of new elections has increased.

Results of the national elections in Greece (Sunday, 6 May 2012):
1. “New Democracy” 18.85% – 108 seats (**)
2. SYRIZA 16.78% – 52 seats
3. PASOK 13.18% – 41 seats
4. Independent Greeks 10.6% – 33 seats
5. KKE 8.48% – 26 seats
6. “Golden Dawn” 6.97% – 21 seats
7. “Democratic Left” 6.11% – 19 seats
8. Greens-Ecologists 2.93% – 0 seats (***)
9. “LAOS” 2.90% – 0 seats (***)
10. “Democratic Alliance” 2.55% – 0 seats (***)

(*) For example, in the region of Magnesia (Central Greece), SYRIZA obtained the second position, with 18%, and our candidate is the first in votes. However, SYRIZA did not elect an MP in this region, while the “Democratic Left”, with just 5.94% in Magnesia, did!
(**) The antidemocratic electoral law gives a “bonus” of 50 seats to the party with a plurality in the election (who “comes in first”).
(***) In addition, the electoral law imposes a 3% threshold before a party to elect MPs (representatives in the Parliament). As a result, in these elections a total of 19% of the voters are not represented in the Parliament; among them, the Greens-Ecologists, the extreme right-wing “LAOS” (which suffered a 50% decrease because of its support to the IMF-EU-ECB troika) and the “Democratic Alliance”.

Short info about the parties with parliamentary representation:

1. “Nea Dimokratia” (“New Democracy”) is the traditional right wing party.

It supported the last agreement with the troika and participated in the outgoing “national unity government” together with PASOK. It suffered great losses because of its pro-troika stand (2009: 33,47%). However, thanks to the antidemocratic electoral law, “Nea Dimokratia” increased by 17 the number of its MPs compared to 2009…

2. SYRIZA is the Coalition of Radical Left.

KOE has participated in this coalition since 2007. Now its vote-total has almost tripled compared to the 2009 vote (4.6%), thanks to its clear commitment to cancel the agreements with the troika and the appeal to all the left forces to unite and form an alternative to the bourgeois pro-troika parties.

3. PASOK is the other main bourgeois party.

It describes itself as social-democratic, but the term free market liberal is more accurate. For 3 decades it has dominated the political life of Greece. It has now been literally crushed because it supported all the “agreements” with the troika over the last two years (2009: 43.92 %).

4. “Independent Greeks” were formed a few months ago by cadres of the right wing “Nea Dimokratia” who opposed  agreements with the troika, recently joined by former members of PASOK who also oppose the pro-troika policies.

5. KKE (Communist Party of Greece) showed only a limited increase this year compared to 2009 (when it won 7.54% of the votes) despite the larger turn among the broad masses towards Left forces. The main reason for their stagnation, given the actual popular unrest, is their sectarian tactics and specifically their refusal to consider any cooperation with the radical left.

6. “Golden Dawn” is an extremely racist, neo-Nazi group which had practically no presence in 2009 (0.3%).

Exploiting the huge problem of immigration (more than a million immigrants and refugees “trapped” in Greece in miserable conditions, because of the European Union regulations forbidding them to go to other European countries), carefully promoted by a section of the establishment and keeping a low profile during the last months, those criminals managed to hide their neo-Nazi identity and were presented as an “anti-system” alternative…

7. “Democratic Left” is a rightist split from SYRIZA, opposing the “extreme positions” of the radical left.

During the last months DL was highly promoted by the mainstream media as a “responsible alternative” to PASOK, and until a month ago it was marking impressive results (up to 18%) in the public opinion polls. Nevertheless, DL recently lost its momentum because, in opposition to SYRIZA, it has declared that “the agreements with the troika are wrong but legally binding on the next government.”

Greek Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) on election result

The Greek socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA, by its initials in Greek) helped to found SYRIZA in 2004. In this editorial from the group's newspaper, DEA celebrates the victory for the left on May 6--and looks at what comes next. From http://socialistworker.org/2012/05/09/political-earthquake-in-greece

Crowds of SYRIZA supporters gathered in Syntagma Square in Athens to celebrate the election result (Adolfo Indignado Cuartero)
Crowds of SYRIZA supporters gathered in Syntagma Square in Athens to celebrate the election result (Adolfo Indignado Cuartero)

 

IN THE elections of May 6, the message of resistance and struggle put forward by SYRIZA was vindicated.

The result is, first of all, a subversion of the political status quo. The Greek people voted massively against the right-wing New Democracy (ND) and the social-democratic PASOK.

These two parties were the guardians of the so-called "Memorandum," the anti-worker loan deal between the Greek government and the IMF, EU and ECB. They were also the major partners in the technocratic government of the Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB official who took over during the upheaval against PASOK's drastic austerity measures. The third member of the coalition government, the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally, was also crushed, ending up with 2.9 percent of the vote, beneath the threshold to qualify for representatives in the next parliament.

The ND leader Antonis Samaras said his party's goal was to win a governing majority on its own. In the end, it lost 1.1 million votes from its result in 2009. It won only 18.9 percent of the overall vote, compared to 33.5 percent two-and-a-half years ago--and that 2009 total was a record low and considered a crushing defeat.

The leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos, hoped that his party would at least remain in first place among the parties. In the end, it lost 2.2 million votes from its 2009 result, shrinking to 13.2 percent of the total, from 43.9 percent in the last election. PASOK ended up in third place, behind SYRIZA.

The main means that people used to express their massive shift to the left was voting for SYRIZA. The Coalition of the Radical Left increased its showing from 4.6 percent and 315,000 votes in 2009 to 16.8 percent and 1.1 million votes in 2012.

SYRIZA was rewarded for its radical left-wing politics--a loud and clear "NO" to the Memorandum and the loan deals, its constant attacks against the bankers, its demand to tax the rich. It was rewarded for its unity, as it targeted the real enemies and avoided the civil war inside the left. It was mostly rewarded because it didn't hesitate to challenge the blackmail of Samaras and Venizelos that any vote which wasn't for austerity would destroy the Greek economy. SYRIZA talked about the need to get rid of the current government right now, and it steadily proposed the solution of a government of the left.

The Communist Party remained at about the same level of influence--it won 517,249 votes in 2009 and 536,072 votes in 2012. The increase was negligible, despite a period full of great struggles and a massive shift to the left.

So there was also a message in the May 6 results for the leadership of the Communist Party. These leaders chose to direct their criticism mainly against SYRIZA. Above all, they chose to proclaim to the people that any effort they make to change their lives today, rather than in some sort of "people's power" regime of the distant future, is a dangerous illusion.

The electoral gains of ANTARSYA, a smaller coalition of far-left organizations, were also very limited. From 24,687 votes (0.36 percent) in 2009, it reached 75,439 (1.19 percent) in 2012. In a period full of struggles and radicalization, this far-left coalition failed to achieve a major advance in its influence and its political role in Greece. It failed to do what the neo-Nazis, the "radical" wing of the right, did achieve.

This is the darkest side of the elections--the big increase for Golden Dawn, which is not just a far-right party, but hard-core neo-Nazis. The disciples of Hitler managed to win 438,910 votes, for 6.97 percent of the total. This gang of thugs--which poses as an anti-Memorandum force, even though it was, is and always will be a loyal hound-dog of the ruling class--has the potential and the financial means to become a real political party.

The far right has become an even more serious threat to immigrants, the left and the labor movement. Confronting them becomes one of the basic tasks for the resistance movement and the left. The effort to drive back the Nazis must be a conscious, organized and constant struggle.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

OVERALL, THE election result was a body blow to the system. It caused an unprecedented paralysis for the political representatives of the ruling class, who were left with neither legitimacy, nor any options for winning support for their austerity policies. This happened at a time when the intensifying global crisis demands that they act faster and more decisively against workers.

The result also raised the potential for an escalation of resistance from below. It has opened up the possibilities for a more radical shake-up of the status quo, since the slogan for a "government of the left" has the support of a crucial part of the population.

This is a fact that can't be ignored. SYRIZA came first in the working-class vote, both public and private sector, among the unemployed, and among voters aged 18 to 34 and 35 to 54. It was also the leading party in the working-class neighborhoods of Athens and Pireaus.

This result is also a message to Europe--one that isn't isolated, as was proven in the presidential elections in France.

The leaderships of EU countries responded with a contradictory message of their own.

On the one hand, they hope to control the situation after the elections--to scare people with the threat of "chaos" if the Greek state doesn't respect the commitments signed by Samaras and Venizelos.

On the other hand, they are maneuvering in the hopes of opening up negotiations. They claim they would be willing to discuss adjustments to the terms of the Memorandum--for example, extending austerity measures from a two-year basis to a three-year basis, in order to make them less drastic. They say they would be willing to negotiate a new policy that combines austerity with some promise of stimulus measures.

In reality, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble are terrified, because they realize that Greece may now actually become the "weak link" of the European chain of austerity. The left must remain focused on this prospect.

The results of May 6 didn't come out of nowhere. This political upset has its roots in the waves of struggles of the last several years--the massive general strikes, the militant demonstrations, the occupations of the squares. It has its roots in the accumulated political experiences of the people, from the youth revolt of December 2008 to the militant explosion of class anger in the streets of Athens in February 2012.

But the part that SYRIZA played to crystallize this dynamic and give it a political expression shouldn't be ignored.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE ESTABLISHMENT is already trying to subvert this dynamic with threats about no party being able to form a government--and by pushing for a "national salvation" coalition government that includes all parties. SYRIZA is right in refusing such a scenario. It is resisting all the pressure and blackmail, and it should keep on resisting until the end.

Only through a government of the left can the Memorandum can be overthrown in a manner that is in the interests of workers. Such a government would cancel the Memorandum and the loan deals as the first step toward a program with completely different priorities. The central concerns of such a program must be wages, pensions, public education, public health and support for the unemployed. To find the financial means for such policies, this government would stop paying off the loan sharks, whether Greek or international; it would nationalize the banking system; and it would impose heavy taxation on corporate profits and the rich.

The two mainstream parties will inevitably go into a deep crisis. In ND, there are already voices demanding that Samaras resign. In PASOK, even Theodoros Pangalos--a leading member of the party, notorious for his attacks against rivals in defense of the party's policies--has publicly questioned if it is worth it for PASOK to continue to exist.

The left has the potential to shake up this rotten political system at its roots. The leadership of the Communist Party, as long as it insists on remaining on the sidelines, will be providing Samaras and Venizelos a political lifejacket. Still, even if this attitude doesn't change, SYRIZA has no reason to be afraid of a new election.

Toward this end, we will once again repeat our call for a united front of the left, both in the various struggles across Greece and in the electoral field. We make this call to all left-wing forces, and especially to the comrades of ANTARSYA.

DEA has actively participated in the struggles that SYRIZA has fought to reach this point, and today, we are proud of that choice. We thank all the people who honored our candidates with their vote for SYRIZA, and we commit ourselves once again to doing anything we can to keep SYRIZA moving in a radical left-wing direction, which is the aim of the vast majority of its members and allies.

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