ATHENS – Even as a new Parliament briefly met and dissolved, Greece’s political parties were taking shots at each other ahead of a second round of elections on June 17 that could decide whether the country stays in the Eurozone or returns to the drachma. After a first election on May 6 failed to give any party a mandate and coalition talks collapsed, new polls were scheduled amid political uncertainty as political leaders continued to squabble over austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for two bailouts totaling $325 billion.
After warnings from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) putting up the rescue monies that any attempts by a new government to tinker with reforms and an additional $15 billion in cuts would lead to the money pipeline being shut off, polls showed Greeks, who gave 68 percent of their votes to anti-austerity parties, were apparently frightened by the reports and were rapidly returning to the traditional ruling parties of the New Democracy Conservatives and PASOK Socialists who had been repudiated in the first elections.
The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA,) a surprise second-place finisher on the back of anti-austerity pledges, had briefly surged into first in a previous poll and now holds second, but with New Democracy, which had 18.8 percent of the vote, rising to 26.1 percent, with PASOK remaining in third, with a slight bump up to 14.9 percent.
Greece is temporarily in the hands of a caretaker government that has no duties. With so much at stake, political maneuvering was in high gear. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who led the party to its worst showing ever despite gaining first place, was meeting Dora Bakoyiannis, a former minister he ejected from the party for not supporting austerity. Her Democratic Alliance party finished out of the running for Parliament, but with 2.6 percent of the vote, and he is trying to win back former lawmakers he kicked out of the party to shore up his support. Samaras’ wooing of former minister Stefanos Manos, the leader of another small liberal party, Drasi, to return to the fold appear to have failed. Manos said reports he was in talks with PASOK were “rubbish.” He is expected to announce a wider cooperation with non-political figures.
And Samaras made clear that his target wasn’t his arch-rival, new PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, with whom he shared power in an uneasy six-month coalition before the last elections, but SYRIZA’s 37-year-old leader, Alexis Tsipras, the new darling of the international media. Samaras came out swinging and said, “SYRIZA is a motley collection of groups that range from anarchists to those who want to revive the hammer and sickle,” he said. He accused Tsipras of a secret agenda to push Greece out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency. “They have shown their true faces,” he said.
Tsipras – as do Samaras and Venizelos, who have waffled in their support for the austerity measures they backed – wants to renegotiate the terms, but said he wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone. But Samaras said unless pro-European parties win the next elections that Greece would lose its Eurozone status, the loan monies propping up the country’s near-dead economy, and bring back the ancient drachma it gave up 12 years ago in favor of the euro. Samaras said a new drachma would be devalued by at least 50 percent and Greeks’ incomes would also be halved, as would the value of their savings.
Tsipras responded to Samaras’s attack by accusing the ND leader of desperation. “Mr. Samaras is in the frontline of the last, desperate rearguard action by the old political world,” he said. Tsipras accused Bakoyanni of being the “best representative of neoliberalism in our country.” Tsipras insisted that if his party comes first on June 17 it can form a left-wing government. He accused other parties and the media of scaremongering to damage SYRIZA’s chances.