ATHENS – Greece’s rising political leader of the left, 37-year-old Alexis Tsipras, whose refusal to back a coalition government in favor of more austerity measures, has taken his SYRIZA party into the lead for prospective new elections, a poll shows. SYRIZA finished a surprise second in the May 6 elections that were won by the New Democracy Conservatives, but with only 18.8 percent of the vote, not enough to form a government, while their bitter rival PASOK Socialists finished a dismal third.
With no party getting a mandate, each has tried to reach a compromise to form a government but failed, raising the likelihood that Greeks will have to go to the polls again, tentatively scheduled for June 17 amid fears that if another deadlock results that the country could be forced out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as currency and return to the drachma.
New Democracy and PASOK made up a shaky hybrid government in favor of big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, but were repudiated by voters. The two traditional rulers only made up a combined 32 percent, down from 80 percent from the 2009 elections won by PASOK.
With anti-austerity fervor rising, SYRIZA, which vehemently opposed the measures but backed Greece staying in the Eurozone, is riding a tide of popular public opinion that has propelled the once-marginal party into a narrow lead, with 20.5 percent of the vote, according to a survey by the Rass agency for Eleftheros Typos newspaper. That’s a 4 percent jump from its strong finish behind New Democracy, which has fallen into second place with 19.4 percent. PASOK, under new leader Evangelos Venizelos, the former finance minister who doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor, is down to 11.8 percent and practically irrelevant.
The survey showed the new Rightist party Independent Greeks, made up of New Democracy outcasts, remained in fourth with 7.8 percent, the Democratic Left rising from seventh to fifth with 6.2 percent, and the Communist party (KKE) continuing its slide down to 4.8 percent. KKE leader Aleka Papariga was offered the chance to be Prime Minister in a coalition with the Leftist parties but refused, saying she had no solutions other than Greece’s removal from the Eurozone and the European Union and wanted only to be in a position of opposition to any ruling government.
The neo-Nazi, Fascist Golden Dawn party, which finished a surprise sixth with 7 percent of the vote and started throwing its weight around by demanding reporter stand for its leader, who is prone to giving a Heil Hitler salute, has slipped to 3.8 percent as Greeks, many of whom said they voted for the party as a protest against the ruling parties, apparently have rethought their support for the Nazi sympathizers.
The Democratic Alliance, Dimiourgia Xana (Recreate Greece), LAOS and the Ecogreens would not win enough support to make it into Parliament, unable to get 3 percent of the vote, although Democratic Alliance, led by former New Democracy minister Dora Bakoyianni, kicked out of her former party, is in talks with the new Drasi party led by former finance minister Stefanos Manos, a merger which could give them enough of the vote to gain seats in Parliament.
Greeks continued giving a contradictory message though, with 68 percent voting against parties in favor of austerity, but 80.1 percent – including SYRIZA supporters – saying they want to stay in the Eurozone, a mutually exclusive position as without support for more austerity, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) said it will stop the rescue loans propping up the bankrupt economy.
The Troika gave Greece $152 billion in a first round bailout and is scheduled to release a second series of $173 billion, but only if a new government makes another $15 billion in cuts and fires 150,000 workers, which Tsipras said he would not do. Even New Democracy and PASOK want to renegotiate the terms of the austerity measures they imposed. Meanwhile, an overwhelming 81.4 percent said they want Greece to stay in the euro area. A similar percentage (80.1 percent) of SYRIZA voters thought the same, the poll found.
Confusion still reigned in Greece where President Karolos Papoulias was making a last-ditch effort to form a coalition. He got New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Left, led by former Communist Fotis Kouvelis, who opposed austerity but said he would support it to form a government, to agree to work together, which would give them 168 seats in the 300-member Parliament.
But Kouvelis, whose name has been mentioned as a compromise Prime Minister, said he would not do so unless Tsipras went along, fearing being called a traitor to the left and after saying the government would have no legitimacy without SYRIZA. Kouvelis, however, said he would not work with SYRIZA if it means another election, raising more doubts that even a second ballot would bring a government. Kouvelis said a compromise now that excludes SYRIZA would fail.
“Such a government would be too fragile and would be at risk of collapsing the day after it is born,” he said, adding that Tsipras’s recalcitrant stance is a “public relations stunt,” although Tsipras said he would not be a “partner in crime” with any government that would continue austerity without re-doing the deal and giving Greeks a breather from the crushing austerity that has worsened a five-year-long recession, created 21.7 percent unemployment and led to the closing of 1,000 businesses a week.
Kouvelis also said that given the current deadlock between the leaders of the country’s main political parties, it is very likely that Greece will have to hold a second round of elections in June. Former ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos, who was interim Prime Minister in the previous coalition, said Greece would run out of money by July 1 unless a new government is formed to abide by all the demands of the Troika, effectively putting Greece under the control of its investors and lenders, and surrendering much of its sovereignty.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters, Bloomberg)