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Train Disaster Derails Greece’s Political Establishment

Thousands march in Athens center against political establishment in Greece
Hundreds of thousands demonstrated across Greece on Wednesday demanding political change after the train disaster that killed 57 people. Credit: Greek Reporter

The train disaster in Greece that claimed the lives of 57 people derailed the parties of the political establishment in the country, weeks before the general elections.

As public anger grows over the timeless deficiencies of Greek railways, there are growing indications that Greeks are turning their backs on traditional parties, including the governing New Democracy (ND), SYRIZA, and socialist PASOK.

The parties who have governed Greece for decades and make up Greece’s political establishment are seen as responsible for the archaic railway system and their response to the tragedy.

On Wednesday hundreds of thousands marched throughout Greece demanding those responsible for the tragedy be punished. Not just the station master who many regard as a scapegoat, but all those who over the years spent millions of Greek and European taxpayers’ money on a railway system that is not safe.

Train disaster upends politics in Greece

The tragedy at Tempi is likely to upend the Greek political system. Until now, all opinion polls showed that the governing party had a seemingly unassailable lead. Main opposition SYRIZA, which governed the country between 2015-2019, was following, with Socialist PASOK in third place.

Almost two weeks after the disaster. anonymous polls show a significant drop in the popularity of ND. They also show that SYRIZA and PASOK seem unable to reap ND’s losses.

Political analysts note that the angry and shell-shocked public is joining the pool of undecided voters and the smaller parties, such as the Communist Party (KKE), Yanis Varoufakis’ Mera 25, and right-wing populists.

Beneficiaries could include the extreme right party “Ellines” of Ilias Kasidiaris, a former senior member of neo-fascist Golden Dawn currently in jail — if allowed to run in the elections.

As a result of the discrediting of the political system, a large increase in the abstention rate could also be recorded.

PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis was forced to delay the elections following the disaster. Originally scheduled for April 9, Mitsotakis is now mulling May as the likely date. He hopes that the delay would allow his embattled government to do some damage control.

According to GR sources, some ministers in Mitsotakis’ cabinet have expressed their anger with the response to the tragedy. Despite the resignation of Kostas Karamanlis, the minister responsible for the railway network, some prominent ministers of the current government have fueled public anger with their statements.

Now, what about politics in Greece?

The elections could result in a political landscape where no party, or coalition of parties, could form a government resulting in political instability.

Analysts point to the 2012 elections, in the middle of the economic crisis, which resulted in a realignment of Greek politics.

PASOK, who won the 2009 election in a relative landslide, won just 13% of the overall vote, a decline of almost three-quarters. ND emerged in first place with just 19% of votes, approximately half of its previous result.

SYRIZA, previously a minor party on the left wing, ran on an anti-austerity platform and outpolled PASOK with 17% of the vote.

The volatility the train disaster created in the public makes it difficult to forecast how the new Greek government could be formed.

The end of political establishment in Greece?

Some say that the only solution (for the establishment) could be a grand coalition of the three major parties with a prime minister by common consent. But, who could this person be?

Perhaps a politician or a technocrat like banker Lucas Papademos, who served as the 12th Prime Minister of Greece from November 2011 to May 2012 leading a national unity government in the wake of the Greek debt crisis?

Pessimists say that Greek politics is so polarized that a consensual figure to lead the country out of the mess is difficult to find. But first things first: The forthcoming election results may surprise all.

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