RIEAS | Research Institute for 
European and American Studies

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Tassos Symeonides
(RIEAS Academic Advisor)


The May 6 election has reshaped the Greek political map; will the June 17 poll increase what many analysts see as the advancing fragmentation of the Greek body politic?

Crises like the one buffeting Greece right now tend to create wild political fluctuations and the breakdown of established orders. Right now one thing is for certain: the former "Big Two," Nea Dimokratia (ND) and Pasok will continue to experience declining fortunes even if a trend in favor of ND surfaces en route to June 17. Pollsters are again hard at work, but, so far, results are contradictory: one poll finds Syriza ahead by 25%, the next gives the advantage to ND with a similar score, and so on and so forth. What all polls agree on though, just like they did before May 6, is that Pasok, once the undisputed champion in Greek politics, has been reduced to a humiliated player almost everywhere in Greece, losing all its bastions in contests that have decimated its parliamentary caucus. Pasok's fate has created anxiety in ND ranks because both parties share a symbiotic relationship since 1974; one of the two stumbles, the other must take notice, especially today. The smaller parties will hover around their shares captured on May 6. Golden Dawn, the not-so-surprising... surprise of May 6 should be expected to hold on to some of its gains and remain a thorn on the side of a parliament as divided and torn apart as never before.

Is a ND-Pasok coalition possible?

Yes, a coalition government with the participation of the former "Big Two" is a plausible scenario, but there are two significant caveats. First, even if the coalition achieves the best scenario now on the table, i.e. a combined parliamentary strength of 160 or more seats out of 300, it won't be spared strong pressure to renegotiate the barbaric terms of the two "bailout" memoranda; Greeks have long lost patience with the boilerplate speeches of both ND and Pasok and will continue to demand action to bring relief from austerity. Second, any further attempt to impose austerity as it happened under the doomed Papandreou administration will most likely trigger the kind of popular pushback that the coalition will be unable to control. Under such circumstances, the longevity of the coalition will be most likely limited.

Syriza and Alexis Tsipras have outmaneuvered the "Big Two" every step of the way and have established a strategic advantage that seems difficult to reverse. Do they have the ability to build upon their initial success or is this just another flash in the Greek political pan?

There is no doubt that Mr. Tsipras has proved himself a capable tactician and the one Greek politician to really translate the sense of outrage and desperation permeating every Greek household into language that reverberates throughout Greek society. Given an "accident" of history, Mr. Tsipras may become prime minister, a prospect that strikes fear and loathing throughout Greece's crumbling political establishment. There is also little doubt that the critical mass of those who voted for Pasok persistently and even periodically has turned to Syriza. If, however, Syriza finds itself the political force holding the balance after the June 17 election, Mr. Tsipras will face a difficult test. Greece is literally with her back to the wall and decisions made in the aftermath of the next elections will determine the path of the Nation for decades to come. Syriza's ideological line -- if we can speak of any such, given Syriza's internal fragility due to deep divisions -- would have been too much for the proverbial "average" Greek voter under different circumstances. Today, though, Greeks are under a barrage of threats and doomsday predictions launched by every Eurocrat and every populist western European politico, a barrage that geometrically increases resentment and cultivates feelings of hostility toward Greece's "friends and partners" in Europe. This is the one single factor that we should not forget when talking about the persistence of political forces like Syriza. The more the Europeans hammer on the Greeks, as they have done for the past two years, the more they push them to vote against "stability."

Fear will play again a major role on June 17. Do you think the doomsday scenaria about Greece's assumed exit from the euro, circulated by Eurocrats and economic analysts, will affect how Greek voters vote?

Estimates like this and this can really stir fear in people who have already suffered disproportionately and are given no hope for the future. Ultimately, Greeks are presented with two alternatives, viz.whether they want to be serfs inside the European "family" or famine-stricken beggars out of it. Opinions are divided as to what is the preferable future, but both futures hold no hope. In light of this, it will all boil down to the difference between (a) being "free" from the yoke of the lenders or (b) being chained to the sovereign debt as long as Greece remains a devastated economy with a strong currency. Mr. Tsipras has already delivered a defiant answer concerning this dilemma to Greece's "tyrants" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal (available to only WSJ.com subscribers) by warning that if Europe cuts Greece off the bailout funds, she will stop paying the lenders -- and a Greek bankruptcy will then engulf the rest of Europe.

Reform is at the heart of Greece's predicament. Would the next election pave the way for accelerating the changes needed in order for Greece to become competitive?

Reform in general has a weak tradition in Greece given the corruption of the political system and the evolution of powerful minorities inside the public sector. Other factors, like the glacial speed of the justice system and a labyrinth of regulation, also hinder attempts to reform and "modernize" the Greek socio-economic system. The next elections will be waged again via platforms that either try to strike terror in the hearts of voters or provide the alternative of pleasing the ears of the suffering with populist promises. Reform isn't exactly in the minds of the contestants -- political survival is.

Overall, what is the most likely shape of the day after June 17?

This is the $5 million question that no one dares answer. Overall though June 17 should not be expected to deliver a breakthrough. Increasingly, the Greek impasse resembles those mathematical problems with no solution that have occupied mathematicians for centuries without any success. Europe, by trampling Greek sovereignty and placing the utmost premium on saving the lenders by sacrificing the future of a country of 11 million people, has effectively defined the impasse. The continuing EU demands for Greece to "honor its commitments" leave no room for relief for a country which is incapable of ever repaying the mount of EUR250 billion in debt plus interest. The Greek tragedy has more than one culprits but it is almost certain that they will all go unpunished while the majority of the Greek population is pushed over the cliff. June 17, far from being a landmark day, will register as the beginning of more trials and tribulations for a country that cannot suffer any more without breaking apart.

 

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