Greece: Syriza's historic European election result

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For more coverage of the 2014 European elections, click HERE.

[See a table containing the results for the European left, Green and left nationalist parties HERE.]

By Ntina Tzouvala

May 31, 2014 -- Transform! Network -- The result of the European election in Greece must be read and interpreted under the light of the ongoing harsh austerity measures imposed by the Troika and successive Greek governments post-2009.

Hence, the victory of the radical left was not particularly surprising, although undeniably historic. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) is now the biggest party in Greece having received 26.56% of the vote and winning six members of the European Parliament (MEPs), whereas the leading governmental right-wing party, New Democracy, received 22.73%.

The neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, is now the third-biggest party in Greece (9.40%) electing three MEPs for the first time in modern Greek political history.

The second governmental party (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK, running under the brand Elia) received 8.03% of the vote and the newly founded Potami (meaning "river" in Greek) managed to secure 6.60% of the vote and electing two MEPs, closely followed by the Communist Party (KKE) that gathered 6.09% and two MEPs.

The last party to elect an MEP was the Independent Greeks (right-wing, anti-austerity) with 3.45%.

It is worth noticing that the Democratic Left, a former governmental party that withdrew its support almost a year ago, scored exceptionally low 1.20%.

The total sum of the parties that did not manage to be represented in the European Parliament was almost 15%, with the extreme right party of LAOS scoring an unexpected 2.70%.

Voter turnout was slightly above 60%, which is comparable to the 2010 turnout.

It is believed that the youth might have abstained more than older voters who tend to support traditional right-wing or centrist parties (New Democracy and Elia).

In order to grasp fully the significance of this result, we need to factor in the successes of the radical left represented by SYRIZA in the municipal and provincial elections that took place on May 18 and 25. SYRIZA managed to secure a victory in the largest province of the country (Attiki), where Rena Dourou marginally yet decisively beat the government-supported candidate, who has held the post for 12 years. Perhaps even more impressively Gabriel Sakellarides, a young radical economist supported by SYRIZA, secured an unprecedented 48.60% in the municipality of Athens, a traditionally conservative constituency. Further, candidates supported by SYRIZA managed to come first in the second round of the municipal elections in a number of working-class neighbourhoods.

Crucially, it is the first time in Greek political history that a left-wing party has clearly come first in the European election. Given that the political debate prior to the elections was heated and polarised, it is fair to argue that this was not a protest vote specifically targeted at the Euro-elections. The result accurately reflects the domestic balance of political power and constitutes a vocal message of disapproval of the current government and its aggressive austerity policies.

The victory of SYRIZA acquires added political and symbolic value given that it constitutes an anti-austerity vote with clearly left-wing characteristics in a wider European context of the rise of the extreme-right.

That said, there are two elements that need further consideration. First, the neoliberal political centre is being re-arranged with the entrance of Potami, the collapse of the Democratic Left and the fact that PASOK, despite its sharp decline, retains some of its influence. The role of the mass media here has been crucial, given that the leader of Potami was a leading journalist in one of the most notoriously pro-government TV stations.

Second, it became evident that the far right vote, the neo-Nazi far right included, is stable at around 15%, exerting considerable influence upon traditional working-class areas.

In any case, the victory of SYRIZA must be understood as a victory not simply against New Democracy, but a victory against a powerful nexus of pro-austerity, pro-establishment actors ranging from an implicit coalition between most political parties, to the mass media and corporate interests.

SYRIZA managed to gain such extensive support despite the generalised sense of fear that was being cultivated by the media and the current government that steadily plays the card of “destabilisation” that is allegedly to occur after the rise of the left. Thus, we can reasonably assume that SYRIZA has developed deep roots in those parts of the Greek society most influenced by the crisis (the unemployed, traditional working-class neighbourhoods, the youth) that constitute the nucleus that is capable of bringing about radical political and social transformations.

[Ntina Tzouvala is a PhD candidate at Durham Law School.]