European elections 2014: Greece – dawn or dusk?
On May 25, Greece’s voters will cast their ballots not only in the European Parliament elections but also in the second phase of local elections – and the choices they make will be about much more than just who will be the 21 Greek MEPs and who will run local government, because the future of the coalition government in Athens is at stake.
In Greece’s previous European Parliament elections in 2009, socialists Pasok and centre-right New Democracy tied with eight MEPs each out of a total 22, a result that seems like ancient history now.
In the 2012 national parliamentary elections, the Greek electorate re-sculpted the political landscape, bringing to prominence the anti-austerity SYRIZA party in what was seen as a rejection of the two establishment parties, Pasok and New Democracy. Compounding this rejection, and grabbing international headlines, was the strong emergence of Golden Dawn, a party condemned by its critics as neo-Nazi, a label that it rejects.
Greece is on the difficult road to recovery after the depths of crisis that it was plumbing in 2012 amid the Troika bailout saga, but that crisis and the role of the EU have left deep scars, likely to shown as voters head to the ballot booths. With the crisis and ensuring drastic austerity measures have fuelled Euroscepticism in Greece, it is ironic that it is precisely this country that holds the rotating presidency of the EU while the European Parliament elections are underway.
This does not necessarily mean that the established parties will be swept away completely, given that polls in recent weeks have shown a close contest.
A poll that was reported to be poised for publication in weekly To Pontiki on May 9 showed SYRIZA at 22.5 per cent, ahead of New Democracy which was at 20.5 per cent. Pasok, led by Evangelos Venizelos within the Elia (Olive Tree) alliance was at seven per cent, behind Golden Dawn which had nine per cent.
A range of polls in recent months have shown either New Democracy or SYRIZA ahead, with two polls at the beginning of May showing New Democracy ahead. At the time, news agency Reuters said that New Democracy had a boost from a bond market success in April and a pledge by prime minister Antonis Samaras to spend 527 million euro from the budget surplus to assist Greeks hard-hit by the austerity measures.
As to Golden Dawn, a question mark hangs over the party’s immediate political future.
While its poll performance on May 9, at nine per cent, was higher than the about seven per cent that it scored in the 2012 election, the party has yet to clear the hurdle of supreme court permission to take part in the May 2014 elections.
Already, Golden Dawn has been the subject of state action in connection with crimes, including the murder of a left-wing rap artists, and a vote on May 7 to lift the immunity from prosecution of two Golden Dawn Mps was seen as boding ill for the court decision on election participation expected on May 11.
From inside and outside the governing coalition, there have been fairly clear signals about expectations flowing from possible results of the European Parliament election on May 25.
Should SYRIZA get the most votes, its leader Alexis Tsipras will demand early parliamentary elections.
And adding to prime minister Samaras’s possible concerns, Venizelos told him at a meeting a few days ago that if the Elia alliance does badly on May 25, the stability of the Greek government will be at risk. Venizelos, according to Greek media reports, said that the government depends on co-operation, and without Pasok, there would be no government.
Critics, however, saw this as a scare tactic by Venizelos to try to mobilise his voters, and reporters noted that he did not specify what numbers would satisfy him as an adequate result for Pasok.
Samaras, meanwhile, put a brave face on things, saying in a television interview that the government had held up through tough times and would pull through now as well. “There is no way that stability will be at risk after the elections,” he said on May 6.
For all this confident talk, there is an obvious risk to Samaras shoring up Pasok in power should the socialists perform badly on May 25 – and that risk is to the credibility of his own party in the eyes of its electorate.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)