By Muzaffer Kutlay
Greece has undergone a deep economic crisis since 2009. Bartering and the remigration from cities to rural begin to sweep. Unemployment rate has reached at 22 percent. One–third of the Greece’s population lives below poverty line. The EU and IMF mandated–bailouts out packages offered to Greece in return for austerity measures are having a serious impact on every segments of Greek society. Thus, by early elections Greek people gave a clear message to the traditional political parties. In elections held on Sunday, May 6, the two leading parties of the previous term suffered a defeat. New Democracy has received 18.9 % and PASOK has received 13.2 % of the total votes.
Greek Politics: A Two and a Half Party Democracy
2012 elections have significantly altered the Greek political structure. Up to this time two traditional political parties have been dominating the Greek political life; the New Democracy as the center–right representative and PASOK representing the center–left. Since 1974, those two parties have been coming to power one after another. On the other hand, having a strong political culture and a rooted history, the Communist Party has always preserved a place in the parliament, except the 1989-1990 elections. However it never got strong enough to form a single party government. Therefore, the political system in Greece was based on a democracy of two and a half parties.
Elections held on Sunday have fractured the political trends. Besides mainstream parties, 17 new parties have participated in the elections. Two of those newly formed parties, the Independent Greeks (10,6%) and the Democratic Left (6.2%) guaranteed a total of 52 (33+19) seats. As a matter of fact, pools conducted before the elections gave signals of change in political choices. Regarding the announced results, formation of a coalition government is inevitable. However, if the inter-party negotiations fail, renewing the elections is among the possible scenarios. In fact, Antonis Samaras, the leader of the New Democracy, not reaching an agreement with any of the parties on Monday, thus the mandate to form a government was given to Alexis Tsipras, the SYRIZA leader.
Economic Crisis: Source of Political Fragmentation
The basic reason of the political fragmentation is the economic crisis. For the past three years, Greek people have been facing serious economical troubles and demonstrations by the various segments of the society have been organized almost every single day. It is also well know that, the crises are the result of years of accumulation, thus not a single party is responsible for the current situation. In 2009, when the PASOK came to government it faced the economic crisis. It was revealed that the statistics of term of the New Democracy were intentionally misreported and this party advocated itself stating: “It was PASOK that handed us over a collapsed economy”.
The Greek economy have been producing crony capitalism for long years. Corruption, bribery, income injustice, tax fraud, inefficient use of sources became considerably widespread and almost routines of this country. Those facts altogether paved the way to the legitimacy question in the Greek politics. In other words, hereafter it becomes rather challenging for Greek politicians to acquire acceptance by the Greek people.
Will the Elections Bring Solution?
Regarding the presents conditions, the future is not likely to be trouble-free neither for the people and nor the new government of Greece. The main governmental agenda item will be the economic crisis, which has an international dimension and focusing on the issue of whether Greece will remain in the euro-zone or not. This question brings a crucial deadlock for the Greek politicians.
The exit of Greece from the euro zone means its default. But, it seems hard for it to recover staying in the euro zone. In order to stay in Euro zone, Greece needs the German support. For receiving it, Greece has to implement the proposed German plan. While allowing the second bailout package, Germany has proposed a technical investigation team for supervising the implementations and fulfillment of the commitments of Greece. Thus, if the Greek politicians are eager to stay in Euro zone they have to accept that authority above their own. In other words, all of these imply more austerity packages for the Greek people.
This scenario brings another stalemate which is the persuasion of the angered society. It is really tough issue to explain, persuade and gain their support of Greek people. Because, the bailout packages mean the tax increases, reduction of the pension liability, more bankruptcies and rise of unemployment.
Regarding this conditions, there is not an easy future for Greek people. Regardless of its composition, it does not seem possible for the new coalition government to bring radical solutions. First reason for this is the distrust of people for the politicians and the popular resistance towards the austerity packages. Secondly, coalitions, by their nature, cannot form strong governments.
Looking at the current situation, it is a question mark whether the coalition government can be formed or not. And if it is formed, would it last long enough? The alternative way for coalitions is forming a national unity government as PASOK has already stated. This would mean a Greek government with a technocratic soul and no prominent ideology. If none of these can be sustained, that would mean Greek people heading the ballot boxes once again.
Muzaffer Kutlay, USAK Center for EU Studies
This article is co-authored by Oğuz Kaan Pahlivan, research assistant at USAK Center for EU Studies.