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Greece: Why SYRIZA made the deal with the Independent Greeks (ANEL)
By Haris Triandafilidou
February 5, 2015 -- Transform!, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The first projections already revealed that the Greek election on January 25, 2015, would lead to a fundamental change of political direction. This turned out to be true even though the goal of achieving an absolute majority was just missed. Instead of the required number of 151 parliamentarians, SYRIZA won 149 out of 300 deputies in the parliament (Vouli).
The official final results
Nea Dimokratia (ND)
The election campaign
At the heart of SYRIZA’s election campaign was the government program presented in September 2014 in Thessaloniki. An updated version of the program was presented by Alexis Tsipras1 on January 3 at the party congress. The program’s validity and binding nature was stressed repeatedly and is based on the following pillars:
- The renegotiation of the terms of credit and debt repayment;
- Resolving the humanitarian crisis;
- Institutional and democratic reform of the state, the fight against corruption and fair taxation;
- The “Labour Action plan” (restoration of employees’ rights, strengthening employees’ negotiating power, job creation) and economic reconstruction.
It was frequently emphasised that the measures the paper contains are not mere pre-election promises, but binding pledges. They do not contain everything the party would like to implement, but merely reflect what can be immediately implemented under the given circumstances. SYRIZA’s defined goal was to achieve a share of the vote thath would give the party an absolute majority in parliament and therefore enable it to implement the full party program without compromises.
The slogan, “Hope is on its way”, was ever-present, on everybody’s lips and could be seen on election posters in rainbow colours. Tsipras spared no effort and replied to each and every question he was asked regarding the party program and the party’s political goals in press conferences, TV interviews and queries under the hashtag #asktsipras. Scaremongering about a potential SYRIZA victory remained the main goa of the ruling New Democrcy partyl. The reluctance of European and German officials to intervene in the Greek election campaign -- unlike in 2012 when they fanned fears of national bankruptcy and a "Grexit" in order to secure Prime Minister Samaras’ position of power -- made it almost impossible for ND to stand up to SYRIZA.Potential coalitions and formation of government
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) – SYRIZA’s preferred coalition partner – had made it clear repeatedly that it was not available for negotiations and had categorically refused to form a coalition. A meeting set up for the day after the election between Tsipras and the secretary-general of the KKE Dimitris Koutsoumpas was rejected by the latter, suggesting that the KKE had nothing to talk about.2
Neither “To Potami” (“the river”) – a party wrongly depicted as left-wing liberal by the international media – nor the former parties of government: the ND and PASOK, were options as coalition partners.
Potami was founded in spring 2014 in the run-up to the European election by the journalist Stavros Theodorakis. The party’s continuous presence in the media and its image as a new and innovative party went hand in hand with an absence of well-defined political positions on austerity, privatisation and the memoranda. The situation of the country and Greek society were depicted as negative or even catastrophic. However, it is not contextualised with neoliberal political patterns.
To Potami presented 21 theses to the public which envisage a further reduction of income for social insurance providers, as well as opening up the education sector to private investors3. During the election campaign, party founder Theodorakis emphasised repeatedly that it was necessary for Potami to take part in the negotiations with European partners and to present its political positions. He was not able, however, to formulate the party’s positions upon multiple requests.4
Furthermore, in the short period of its existence the party has “excelled” at producing sexist TV ads5 and at voicing racist and homophobic statements.6 Party leader Theodorakis’ authoritarian leadership style, the party’s collaboration with the ultra-neoliberal party, Drasi, as well as the participation of certain public figures7 that had changed party affiliation as “reformers” in the course of their political career8, had led to resentment and members leaving the party.9
Theodorakis usually has a casual appearance and used to work for MEGA, a private TV channel, for a long period of time. Giorgos Bobolas, a large-scale business entrepreneur, owns about one quarter of this TV channel. As the owner of Pegasus Publishing S.A10, Bobolas also (partially) owns and/or operates several daily newspapers, online information portals and magazines. Bobolas’ construction business, Ellaktor, is involved in dubious tendering procedures and owns shares in the gold mines in Chalkidiki.11
Potami boss Theodorakis has repeatedly advocated the implementation of projects contracted to Bobolas relating to garbage disposal in the Attica region.12 Even though Theodorakis resembles a motivational speaker more than a member of Greek big capital, this by no means hides the fact that the waters of Potami were too deep and murky to come into the equation as a possible coalition partner for a party that justified its candidacy by its wish to break the “entangled triangle between political parties, economic oligarchy and banks” (Alexis Tsipras, January 1, 2015).
The swift formation of the coalition between SYRIZA and the Anexartitoi Ellines (AN.EL., “Independent Greeks“) party was met with incomprehension in other European countries. While the indignation of middle-class parties and the mainstream media is to be ascribed to hypocrisy rather than to serious concerns regarding democracy and rule of law13, the concerns of numerous SYRIZA supporters in other European countries makes a closer examination of the coalition partner necessary:
AN.EL. was founded by the former ND deputy Panos Kammenos in February 2012. In its founding manifesto, the party pledged itself to popular sovereignty, the protection of the constitution, national pride and parliamentary democracy. Apart from that, the party calls for the abolition of the memoranda, which are perceived as an attack by the new world order. In item 6 AN.EL. pledges itself to equal rights (isonomy), solidarity, justice, meritocracy and equality and commits itself to protecting Greek families and all citizens from the attacks of the market. Its commitment to the values of the Greek Orthodox church and its positive impact on the people and the nation go hand in hand with the protection of religious freedom.14
At a press conference a few days before the election, Kammenos had declared himself against the Dublin II Regulation that provides for undocumented migrants being detained in Greece against their will and underlined that every human life is of equal value, independent of its country of origin. “Illegal migrants must be given the possibility to travel to a country in which they can live without being subjected to violence or the methods of Mr Voridis15 or the Golden Dawn. In Greece this is not possible”,16 Kammenos stated.
The delegates’ speeches in the course of the party’s founding convention in February 2012 mainly focused on praising the chairman, Greek cultural heritage and the Greek Orthodox religion and condemning Greece’s sell-out to its creditors.17 The political agenda of the years between 2012 and 2015 shaped and accentuated this seemingly chaotic accumulation of patriotic, anti-neoliberal and Christian Orthodox positions that rarely had matched the right-wing extremist profile pinned on the party.
For example, in June 2013, the party positioned itself clearly against the shut-down of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT). It supported the 595 cleaners who were laid off by the ministry of economy and called for the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of12 persons in the Farmakonisi refugee tragedy. Associating Kammenos and his party with the right of the political spectrum is out of the question.
Pro-memoranda and anti-memoranda attitudes have overtaken the political division between right and left. In other words, the self-positioning of AN.EL as an anti-memoranda party results in certain positions being adopted on privatisation and the dismantlement of workers’ rights but also on “side effects” such as dismantling democracy, the state and police violence becoming more and more authoritarian. These positions shape the party’s political profile and the relationship with its voters in a way that cannot be taken back without political losses.
The election of January 25 has led to a unique situation. The avalanche of neoliberalism in the past five years has brought radical changes to the established patterns of political attitudes and the party spectrum. For the first time in European history, a party of the left has emerged as the winner of an election. For the first time in post-war European history, a national-socialist party [Golden Dawn] whose leaders are facing trial for establishing a criminal association and for contract killings is the third strongest force in a parliament.
The answer to the question of why SYRIZA has preferred to establish a coalition with AN.EL. rather than opting for new elections is a complex one. First, the people (who took to the streets between spring 2011 and February 2012 and took part in mass protests) had already been waiting for two years for SYRIZA’s victory. Second, the majority of the Greek population did not vote for SYRIZA because of the party’s positions on migration, women’s rights and gay marriage, but rather for an improvement in their individual living conditions which they could actually notice.
For these reasons, a second ballot would have been hard to explain. Also, Greek electoral law contains rules that result in travel costs for many voters. These would have been impossible for SYRIZA voters to pay for a second time. Therefore, achieving the absolute majority of votes in the second ballot would have been far from secured.
The distribution of government roles has shown that SYRIZA is not exclusively focusing on the abolition of the memoranda, as claimed by certain sources. Critical areas such as migration policies and policing are assigned to ministries led by SYRIZA.18 The damage Kammenos may cause as secretary of defence can be estimated to be rather limited with his deputy being SYRIZA’s Kostas Isychos. The subministry for the regions of Macedonia and Thrace used to occupy a full ministry in the past. The fact that SYRIZA has many voters in these regions makes it less worrying that this subministry is now assigned to ANEL deputy Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha.
Tsipras is the first head of government who did not swear the oath of office to a Greek Orthodox priest, but to the president of the state. In addition, Tsipras’ highly symbolic wreath-laying ceremony in Kaisariani, the place of execution of numerous fighters of the left resistance against the German occupation, highlights the fact that the Greek government undoubtedly is committed to left-wing positions and to its left-wing identity.
The election on January 25 has shown that the left can achieve a victory. This victory cannot be called into question by the necessary formation of a coalition and the missed absolute majority. The electoral result in Greece shows that sustainably changing societal balances of power is indeed a process that takes a long time. If the left wants to persevere and serve the purpose of promoting emancipatory processes, creating scope for action, providing a voice and political home to subaltern societies, it cannot refrain from taking certain tactical steps in order to get closer to its strategic goals.
- See "The Greeks vote, not Schaeuble“, speech at the beginning of the Greek election campaign by Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA: http://www.transform-network.net/focus/greece-decides/news/detail/Programm/-2f613b03db.html
- KKE: There is no topic of conversation for a meeting with Tsipras. 26/01/2015: http://www.stokokkino.gr/article/1000000000003470/KKE-Den-uparxei-antikeimeno-sunantisis-me-Tsipra
- The neoliberal orientation of Potami’s 21 theses. Left.gr., 21/09/2014: https://left.gr/news/neofileleytheris-kopis-oi-21-theseis-toy-potamioy
- TV interview with Stavros Theodorakis on 18/01/2015, MEGA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOlo3kZrDZM
- Potami’s sexist and “stolen“ TV ads. Tvxs, 20/05/2014: http://tvxs.gr/news/ellada/seksistika-kai-%C2%ABklemmena%C2%BB-binteo-toy-potamioy
- 06/10/2014, vathikokkino: Stavros Theodorakis: A flood of right-wing extremist and racist positions.
- Drasi and Potami join forces. 04/01/2015: http://tvxs.gr/news/ellada/se-koini-drasi-me-potami-i-drasi
- Spyros Lykoudis, who was elected as a parliamentarian on January 25 with Potami, used to belong to the group of Fotis Kouvelis‘, who left SYRIZA in 2010 and founded Dimokratitiki Aristera (Dim.AR). The party’s former secretary-general had left Dim.Ar. when the party started to converge with SYRIZA’s positions, declared itself against electing a new head of state and called for the end of austerity, privatisation and authoritarian development of the political landscape. Former Dim.Ar. deputy Grigoris Psarianos, Niki Founta and Katerina Markou are following Lykoudis‘ example.
- Potami: enlargement causes numerous members to leave the party. 25.12.2015: http://tvxs.gr/news/ellada/xeimaroi-apoxoriseon-apo-potami-logo-dieyrynsis
- See organisational chart of Pegasus Publishing S.A available at: http://www.pegasus.gr/article.asp?catid=28677
- Potami in line with Bobolas. 15.10.2015: http:/info-war.gr
- Unlike Thomas Weber, who calls Tsipras and his cabinet anti-Jewish in his commentary on 30/01/2015 in the German daily newspaper Die Welt (see www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article136950193/So-judenfeindlich-sind-Tsipras-und-seine-Leute.html), the Central Council of Jews in Greece does not see any such danger emanating from the new government. Their leader Moses Constantinides announced in an interview with the German weekly newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine that the Jewish community trusted the new government (see http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/21359).
- See Anexartitoi Ellines: founding manifesto. 24/02/2012: http://anexartitoiellines.gr/diak.php
- Makis Voridis was health secretary in the last legislative period. In 2012 he defected from the right-wing extremist LAOS to ND. He had started his political career as the secretary-general of the youth organisation of EPEN, a party founded by the putschist and dictator General Papadopoulos. In 1985 he was excluded from the law students’ association for fascist activities. A photo dating from the same year shows Voridis together with like-minded persons roaming the streets of the Exarcheia district in Athens armed with an axe. Today he is a fellow party member of Antonis Samaras and is on cordial terms with Jean-Marie Le Pen and had declared before the election on January 25 that everything had to be done in order to prevent an electoral victory of the left.
- "Red lines for the collaboration with SYRIZA. SYRIZA’s advance of 7%." To Vima Online, 21/01/2015: http://www.tovima.gr/politics/article/?aid=669378
- Ios: The mysterious Greeks. TVXS, 03/03/2014: http://tvxs.gr/news/egrapsan-eipan/oi-mystirioi-ellines-toy-ioy
- Blockupy goes Athens: Taking a closer look at the cabinet.