Greek voters handed a stunning victory to the left-wing Syriza party and its leader Alexis Tsipras on Sunday, as they went to the polls for the third time in a year.
Syriza got 145 seats in the new Parliament, only four fewer than in its first electoral victory in January. The second highest vote getter Nea Demokratia, the main right-wing party, was far behind with 75 seats, a loss of one. The extreme right-wing neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party picked up one extra seat, for a total of 18. Golden Dawn thus became the third largest party in Parliament, edging past the older social democratic PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party) which gained four seats for a total of 17. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) made no gains, retaining its 15 seats in the new Parliament. “The River,” Potami, a centrist party which supports accepting austerity, was badly mauled by the voters, lost six seats and ended up with only 11. The conservative but anti-austerity Independent Greeks Party, ANEL, Syriza’s coalition party since January’s election, lost three seats but retained 10. The right-leaning Union of Centrists, entering Parliament for the first time, got nine seats. The Popular Unity party, a left split-off from Syriza, got 2.85 percent of the vote and did not win any seats.The 145 seats that Syriza won are six votes short of the 151 needed to give it a parliamentary majority, thus the coalition with ANEL will continue.
This was a “snap” election called by Prime Minister Tsipras on August 20. Tsipras had lost parliamentary majority when a number of members of Parliament from his own party defected to form their own group, Popular Unity, protesting Tsipras’ acceptance, under duress, of a vicious package of austerity measures forced on the country by the “Troika” of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, as well as by the governments of Germany and some other wealthy European Union states.
The left-wing Syriza and Tsipras came to power after an election in January that was fought on the subject of previous austerity programs imposed on previous governments by the Troika and Greece’s creditors. These austerity programs have had a devastating effect on the Greek economy and on the living standards of ordinary Greek working people. But it became evident that the ruling class in Europe and the political right, especially in Germany, were determined to punish the Greek people for defying their orders and electing a left-wing government. This anger increased when Tsipras called a referendum on the austerity programs and the voters overwhelmingly voted “oxi” (“no!”), rejecting the harsh austerity. However, the German government and the European Central Bank and European Commission (governing executive of the European Union) lashed back, and used the fact that the Greek banks were about to run out of cash to force Tsipras to accept even worse austerity conditions in exchange for a further bailout.
The rightist Nea Demokratia party argued that the Syriza government should be punished for its defeat at the hands of the Troika and the Germans, but evidently Greek voters remembered that it was a series of incompetent and corrupt Nea Demokratia and PASOK governments that had got Greece into this trouble in the first place. So voters did not buy that line. Syriza argued that even though the new austerity measures will have to be imposed, Syriza would strive to protect the workers and powerless as it continued to struggle against European big capital, whereas anti-worker parties to the right of Syriza would implement the measures with ruthlessness.
Elections with similar scenarios are coming up in Portugal on October 4, in Spain on December 20 and in Ireland next year. Voters in those countries will undoubtedly be influenced by the Greek results, as well as by the choice of leftist Jeremy Cronyn as the new head of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. At stake is the possibility of a Europe-wide rebellion against austerity programs which are impoverishing the working class in many countries.
Photo: An anti-austerity rally in front of the parliament in Athens. | AP