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yiannis mavris

GR E ECE’S AU S TERITY E L E CTI O N

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cross most of Europe and North America, the two-party system of alternating centre-left and centre-right governments has so far largely managed to absorb the political fall-out from the 2008 financial crisis. Despite high unemployment, savage public-spending cuts and stagnant economies, the process of ousting the incumbents—as in Britain, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France—or rallying to support a lesser against a greater evil, has operated as a sufficient safety valve for citizens’ discontents, even though the policies of the mainstream parties are now almost indistinguishable. To date it is only in Greece, where the economic disaster has been most far-reaching, that the two-party system has collapsed altogether, leading to new mass-political alignments. Here, the centre-left pasok and centre-right New Democracy had dominated the political scene since the ‘regime change’ to representative democracy— the Metapolitefsi—following the 1967–74 military dictatorship. But in the elections of 6 May 2012, after two years in which both pasok and nd had committed themselves to the austerity measures of the eu–ecb– imf Memoranda of Agreement, no party managed to score more than 19 per cent of the vote. In this fragmented landscape, attempts to piece together a working majority fell short. A further election was therefore called, six weeks later. At the second time of asking, on 17 June 2012, Greek voters finally elected sufficient deputies to create a government acceptable to Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels, under the nd’s Antonis Samaras. But the ‘grand coalition’ of nd, pasok and dimar received only 2.9m votes altogether, barely 29 per cent of the total electorate, with its support coming mainly from the elderly, pensioners and housewives, rural areas and the rich.1 new left review 76 july aug 2012 95

the renegade Centre Union politician whose service to the King in helping to abort Greek democracy is still remembered as ‘the Apostasy’. the June results and the rise of syriza. comparable only to the pattern in Anglo-Saxon countries. French and German banks for their past lending to nd and pasok governments—a strategy that has plunged the country into its own Great Depression. and the installation of a pasok– nd coalition government supported by the far-right laos. demographic and geographical breakdown of the voting patterns.96 nlr 76 The June 17 poll appears to announce a new political configuration: a polarization between forces supporting the Troika’s Memoranda and those opposing them. Public opposition to the terms of the loan agreements has been running high—it already stood at 65–70 per cent as early as May 2010. politicians who had summarily ratified the ‘emergency’ legislation imposed by the first Memorandum could no longer appear in public without being jeered or physically threatened. as a condition for ever more expensive loans to cover the interest due to Greek. rather than being consigned to the margins. whose part in bringing about the current Greek government has been a replay of the role of Stephanos Stephanopoulos. nlr] 1 . What follows will analyse the disintegration of the two-party system in May. under former [dimar (Democratic Left): right-wing rump of what was once Greek Eurocommunism. with no end in sight. Led by Fotis Kouvelis. the left is at the heart of political developments. But amid the deepening national debt crisis. By 2011. Since May 2010. the repeated alternation of pasok and nd has been the bedrock of the liberal-democratic system. before providing a social. May’s fragmentation Since the fall of the military junta in 1974. split from the syriza coalition in 2010. the two-party system has become profoundly discredited. orchestrated by Merkel and Sarkozy. The combined support levels for the two ‘parties of government’ generally stood at 80–85 per cent. both nd and pasok have committed themselves to the Troika’s policy of drastic cuts in wages and social provision. the better to understand the respective support bases of the new government and its opponents. The need for legitimation lay behind pasok leader George Papandreou’s suggestion of a referendum on the Memorandum in late October 2011. The latter have coalesced around syriza. whose emergence as a major electoral force constitutes a further significant novelty: for the first time since the 1950s. leading to his ouster.

At 32 per cent. In the space of just thirty months following the election of October 2009.2 million and nd 1. Similarly. more than trebled its vote share to 16. politically and ideologically fragmented. The left coalition of syriza. socially. down from 33. remained outside parliament. The radical overturning of the previous balance of forces in May also demonstrated the bankruptcy of the electoral system.9 per cent in 2009.5 per cent. nd’s vote share was the lowest ever received by the main party of the right since the interwar period. till the nd government of Kostas Karamanlis increased it in 2008). the distortions of . The official turnout was 65 per cent. pasok slumped to just 13. its three main currents—the ‘popular right’. the Communist Party (kke) polled 8. The present ‘qualified proportional representation’ awards the party with the highest vote tally a preposterous bonus of 50 parliamentary seats (previously 40. The logic of this was to ensure a working majority for the leading party. pasok’s vote share was even lower than the 13. an anti-Memorandum split from nd. meanwhile. pasok was punished more severely. When fresh elections were finally held on 6 May 2012. But in the fragmented electoral landscape of May 2012. thanks to a constitutional 3-per-cent barrier. the combined total for the two ‘parties of government’ was less than half their aggregate support in the previous elections.8 per cent.4 per cent in 2009.9 per cent.mavris: Greece 97 central banker Lucas Papademos. while the centre-right Independent Greeks.1 per cent. having secured 43. they lost a total of 3. a fall of 6 per cent compared to 2009.3 million votes—pasok 2. But the splits within the Greek right caused by the debt crisis now became evident: the conservative bloc emerged from the May elections geographically. still-more savage Memorandum of Agreement with the Troika in March 2012. which signed on to a second. scored 10. effectively allowing it to enter office by winning 38–39 per cent of the vote. the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn 7 and dimar (Democratic Left) a mere 6.4 per cent it secured on its first appearance in 1974.1 million—a figure that represents 47 per cent of those who voted in 2009.6 per cent.2 per cent. held to account for Greece’s recourse to the imf and the signing of the first Memorandum. the punishment dished out to the two main parties was unprecedented. while nd scored only 18. A historic high of 19 per cent was accounted for by a mosaic of small. the ‘far right’ and the ‘neoliberal right’—scattered across seven different party formations. newly formed parties that.

5 per cent of nd’s victory margin. The upward trend continued until the end of May.98 nlr 76 this system became even more apparent: with 19 per cent of the vote. to obtain just under 27 per cent on June 17. abstentions. but as the leading party doubled its number of mps to 108. perhaps accounting for as much as 1. nd won 58 seats in proportional terms. the announcement of syriza’s programme on 1 June likely deterred the latter constituency. Moreover. the 3-per-cent threshold meant that the one-fifth of the electorate who voted for small parties were left without political representation. But the main reason for the last-minute drop in support for syriza should be sought in the massive campaign to intimidate the population that was launched from both within and outside the country. nd’s poor performance and the electoral collapse of pasok meant that the two parties’ combined score. was still below this limit—hence their inability to form a government. the facilitation of immigrant family re­ union. which now stood at 32. bringing in turn a rapid surge in voter support. at 32. This too helped to lower the percentage required for the party finishing first to form a majority. also had a disproportionate effect on syriza’s vote. As we shall see. had only 50 mps. Brussels and Berlin. out of a total of 300.1 per cent. However. especially the points on immigration and policing— calling for guarantees of human rights in immigrant-detention centres. with public support reaching a level of 32 per cent—an increase of more than 10 percentage points in the space of a month—before declining sharply over the following fortnight. alarmed ruling elites in Greece and beyond. intransigently opposed to the debt-and-austerity measures demanded by Frankfurt. syriza.7 per cent. especially among impoverished younger voters and domestic migrants living far from the constituencies where they were registered. and prohibitions on the use of masks or firearms against demonstrators. demilitarization of the coast guard. The rise of an attractive left-wing party. and then partially reversed? syriza’s gains had come primarily at the expense of the Communist Party (kke) and smaller left-wing groupings. prompting the formation of a ‘holy alliance’ . with 17 per cent. when syriza lost an estimated 4–5 per cent. June’s polarization The May electoral success of syriza generated a burst of enthusiasm for the party. but also to some extent from a segment of conservative anti-Memorandum voters. Why was its electoral momentum checked.

there were sudden power cuts and artificial shortages of basic medicines for cancer and heart patients. for example. and 27 per cent of those who voted for it in May switched to syriza (see Table 1. Syriza 26. with pasok’s 33 mps and Democratic Left’s 17. as did that of Golden Dawn.5 per cent to 4. the lowest received by the main party of the Greek right since 1926.9 per cent. The unabashed intervention in favour of the ‘pro-Europe parties’ undoubtedly influenced the result on 17 June.5. The fragmentation recorded in the earlier poll gave way to a more concentrated and polarized political scene. rumours and threats. as noted above.7 per cent. The ‘euro vs drachma’ dilemma had an intimidating effect on a sizeable proportion of the electorate. international organizations.3 per cent. Democratic Left’s vote stayed steady at 6.mavris: Greece 99 against syriza. at 6. the country would be unable to pay salaries and pensions. for a full breakdown of shifting voter allegiances between October 2009 and June 2012). Samaras’s position as party leader was even in question— though the prospect of a break-up of nd soon proved too alarming to .3 per cent. In the run-up to polling day. European officials. dissuading voters from supporting syriza while prompting others to abstain or vote tactically for nd. The results yielded nd 79 seats—boosted to 129 thanks to the fifty-seat bonus—and syriza 71. In a staggering display of interference in the electoral politics of a sovereign country. as well as confiscation or even loss of bank deposits. Samaras was able to build a working majority of 179. The share of the vote going to parties that remained outside parliament dropped from 19 per cent in May to just 6 per cent. which were not distributed to pharmacies. which became the nucleus of the forces bidding to counter the ‘red threat’. Voting patterns in June were thus very different from those of May. to 62. For a few days. ‘analyses’. The gains of the two main political forces took place chiefly at the expense of the smaller parties: the kke’s vote dropped from 8.9. and as funds dried up there would be shortages of fuel for transportation and heating. with pasok in third place on 12. New Democracy’s 19 per cent share of the May vote was. New Democracy scored 29. with nd and syriza as its leading players. perhaps by as much as 4 per cent. overleaf. Domestic and foreign media outlets propagated the idea that a victory for syriza would bring about Greece’s exit or expulsion from the Eurozone. Turnout fell further relative to May.5 per cent. foreign banks and financial institutions generated a constant flow of statements. the difference mainly distributed between nd and syriza.

3 26. pre-election Political Barometer.5 7.5 6.9 kke Golden Dawn dimar Other Abstention Blank/spoiled ballot Source: Public Issue.7 12. .9 4.6 7 June Overall share of vote (%) Distribution of party vote from May election (%) nd syriza pasok Independent Greeks 94 5 9 16 2 14 12 29 35 34 0 2 79 2 1 1 11 6 13 11 0 4 3 1 3 0 58 5 8 13 3 85 8 21 27 10 17 18 23 21 0 2 0 0 60 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 1 53 3 3 1 4 8 3 1 1 1 5 2 70 0 3 5 9 29.2 6. Greek elections 2012: voting behaviour relative to previous election Ind.3 6.100 nlr 76 Table 1.9 13.8 8.1 16.5 10. Greeks Golden Dawn nd pasok dimar syriza kke May Overall share of vote (%) Distribution of party vote from 2009 election (%) nd pasok kke syriza laos Other First-time voters Abstention Blank/spoiled ballot 51 6 1 1 9 1 10 14 12 1 36 1 2 0 2 7 5 4 2 10 3 11 2 6 7 7 5 7 16 15 70 8 9 30 19 21 2 5 70 3 2 3 4 6 6 16 6 1 3 23 9 10 15 14 10 4 2 1 18 15 22 7 4 18.

while one in ten were former pasok and Democratic Left voters who switched to nd for tactical reasons. 3 Political Barometer 110. ReCreate Greece—the far-right laos. an additional 1. 18 per cent of nd voters cast their ballot ‘in order for Greece to remain in the euro area’.mavris: Greece 101 contemplate for the Greek elite and its backers.4 million Greek voters—17. According to an opinion survey conducted on 11–14 June. But although it managed an eleven-point improvement in the June elections. given that electoral rolls have not been properly updated to take account of non-resident deaths for decades. According to the same survey. 8 per cent ‘in order for there to be stability’. Nonetheless.2 The vote for syriza. the dynamic is clear: since 2004. In addition to its core support. But nd was unable to check support for Golden Dawn. 38 per cent of syriza voters said they supported the party because ‘it expresses the demand for change’. the vote for nd was essentially negative. Political Barometer 110.9 per cent—indicates the phenomenally compressed time-frame within which the country’s political landscape has been evolving: the momentum the coalition developed between the two contests would normally take several years to acquire. the coalition has increased its support fivefold. conducted on 11–14 June 2012.000 in October 2009 to 1. who in the May contest had opted for smaller parties of the neoliberal right— Democratic Alliance. The mounting discredit of the two major parties of the post-dictatorship period has also amplified a trend towards abstention. ‘to prevent syriza from winning’. and has now emerged as the country’s principal oppositional force.8 per cent to 26. see Public Issue. 2 .9 per cent of the electorate in that year—have chosen to turn Nationwide telephone survey of 1. The fact that syriza did not win the June vote should not obscure the remarkable political transformation that has taken place: in less than three years.7 million in June 2012. Official turnouts have steadily declined over the past decade—though figures should be treated with caution. which artificially inflates the total. this was still the party’s second-worst electoral performance in 30 years.3 The increase in syriza’s support between May and June—from 16. Moreover. and 14 per cent because it represents ‘hope for better days’. it attracted mainly conservative voters. from 316. by contrast. and to a lesser extent Independent Greeks. may be described as particularly positive.203 individuals. which in the June election consolidated its presence on the political scene. perhaps by as much as 10 per cent.

000 fewer voters cast ballots than in 2009—a drop of 8 per cent—while in June the rate of abstention relative to May rose by a further 4 per cent. By contrast. in the two years since the Memoranda began to be implemented. These voters have been hit particularly hard by unemployment. 570. 5–10 July 2012.004 individuals on the reasons for abstention. from rural or semi-urban areas. the coalition predominates. The higher abstention rate in June worked against syriza. conducted by Public Issue. the economically active population and younger age groups. 4 . representing 260. The economic crisis has accelerated this tendency: in May 2012. Social patterns How should the parties’ respective electoral bases be characterized. syriza brings together the most dynamic segments of the electorate: its support is concentrated in large urban centres and among salaried employees. its share of voters among salaried employees was very low: 19 per cent in the private and 21 per cent in the public sectors (see Table 2 opposite.000 fewer voters.000. The latter category accounts for some 14–15 per cent of the electorate. and corresponds to the most recent internal migrants. the additional abstention relative to May came in social categories in which. travel abroad and so on. giving an overall abstention rate of perhaps 28 per cent. panel A). nd won the votes of 42 per cent of pensioners and 37 per cent of housewives.4 million citizens. such as young and ‘out-of-constituency’ voters—that is.4 Increased migration on account of unemployment will inevitably strengthen this trend in years to come. the number of voters has dropped by 800. The abstention rate may also have been higher in June. the supporters of New Democracy—and therefore of the government— tend to be older. with just under 30 per cent overall. due to seasonal factors: the exam period. however. corresponding to 2.102 nlr 76 their backs on the electoral process. drawn to the cities from the provinces. Moreover. socially. In June. reduced incomes and fuel-price increases. demographically and geographically? On the whole. as we will see in more detail below. and are drawn chiefly from among the economically inactive population. given that a large portion of the electorate preferred to ‘exit’ than cast a protest vote. those who vote not in their place of residence but in their place of origin. especially among young voters. nd won the most Nationwide telephone survey of 1. In total. summer employment in tourism in island regions. making the costs of travelling back to vote prohibitive.

June 2012: voter demographics. Economic Activity Active Inactive 24 39 9 17 7 6 31 20 5 4 8 6 10 3 C.9 B. Greek elections.7 pasok 12. Age 18–24 25–34 35–44 45–54 55–64 65+ 11 16 21 24 33 48 5 6 7 9 14 21 10 5 7 7 6 5 37 33 32 34 27 13 5 4 4 5 5 4 7 10 10 8 7 5 13 16 1 7 4 2 F. Gender Male Female 30 30 14 11 5 8 25 29 5 4 6 9 10 4 E.mavris: Greece 103 Table 2. Greeks 7. pre-election Political Barometer.3 syriza 26.5 Golden Dawn 6. Occupation Employers/selfemployed Public-sector employees Private-sector employees Unemployed Pensioners Housewives Students 28 21 19 17 42 37 12 10 10 7 5 20 11 8 5 10 7 6 5 6 11 27 33 34 37 18 23 39 4 5 5 4 4 5 4 8 8 8 11 5 9 8 11 6 11 12 3 3 7 29. Assessment of income Facing financial difficulty Making ends meet 26 38 10 17 6 8 31 18 5 3 9 5 8 4 D.5 Ind. Geographical area Urban Athens Metropolitan area Semi-urban Rural 28 27 30 36 11 9 13 16 7 8 6 5 30 31 23 22 4 5 5 4 8 6 8 7 6 7 8 7 Source: Public Issue.9 kke 4.3 dimar 6. . % shares of vote nd Overall share of vote A.

With the collapse of pasok. tumbled to just 7–10 per cent in June 2012. However. syriza. students and the unemployed: 34 per cent of private-sector and 33 per cent of public-sector employees voted for the coalition. or for that matter its 33 per cent in 2009. pasok’s support among salaried employees. when it lost to pasok. along with 37 per cent of the unemployed and 39 per cent of students. amid the polarization caused by the economic crisis. the social layers it had represented during the Metapolitefsi have to a large extent been split between syriza and dimar. at 28 per cent. however. and in some cases have even benefited from it. meanwhile. In class terms its support is markedly strong among the lower middle class (32 per cent) and. in a ratio of 3 : 1. In demographic terms. nd’s voter base—and pasok’s—is decidedly aged: among voters aged 65 and over. while among those aged 55–64.104 nlr 76 votes among employers and the self-employed. which stood at 44 per cent in 2009. nd secured 48 per cent and pasok 21 per cent. where it has traditionally prevailed. Democratic Left has attracted the upper-middle strata and a small but significant student layer who. there is a deep social rift between the two ‘successors’: while syriza has inherited the bulk of the lower-income and working-class strata of the historical social bloc of pasok supporters. its support in this category. These two age groups combined account for 63 per cent of nd’s voters and 67 per cent of . Perhaps most striking is the fact that between the two elections of 2012. These social strata have not been hit by the economic crisis. nd’s support increased most—from 26 per cent to 38 per cent—within the category of the ‘financially secure’: those who describe themselves as able to ‘live comfortably or manage on their income’ (Table 2C). By contrast. have tended to gravitate towards conservative positions. Though its support stands at 13 per cent across the board. the former scored 33 per cent and pasok 14 per cent (see Table 2E). pasok’s remaining voter base exhibits similar social characteristics to that of nd. was much weaker than the 46–49 per cent it had enjoyed in 2004–07. performed best among salaried employees. especially. déclassé strata—that is. those whose class status has been downgraded by the economic crisis—where syriza pulled in 42 per cent of the vote. this jumps to 17 per cent among the ‘financially secure’ and 20 per cent among pensioners. the economically active population.

The social differentiation of the parties is also strongly reflected in the electoral geography of the capital. Furthermore.and upper-middle-class strata. as the younger population has been radicalized while the elderly have become more conservative. It is syriza that has become the party of urban Greece. The pattern of voting for Democratic Left in the capital. nd’s support in many of these areas exceeded 30 per cent. which are concentrated in the outlying western and south-western municipalities of Athens and Piraeus. The support bases of the parties are also strongly differentiated in their geography. Conversely. nd performed best in rural areas. syriza’s strongest support in Athens—35 to 40 per cent— was among the working class and lower-income strata more broadly. Its strongest voter support. which clearly corresponds to the class division of the Athens metropolitan area. and very deep. along an axis running north-east to south-west. compared to 27 for nd and 9 for pasok. while in the wealthier suburbs of the north-east and south-east. and 33 per cent in the 25–34 age-bracket. syriza polled only 6–11 per cent. In predominantly middle-class areas. with 30 per cent of the vote. as against 28 per cent in urban centres (Table 2. the 65+ age group is the only one in which the old two-partyism remained at relatively high levels (nd’s and pasok’s scores adding up to 69 per cent). in Attica. syriza again beat nd. which accounts for approximately one-third of the electorate. whereas its support among young people is strikingly high: 37 per cent among those aged 18–24. at 9–10 per cent. F). while in the most affluent suburbs it ranged from 50 to 70 per cent. which have the highest concentration of upper.mavris: Greece 105 pasok’s. New Democracy prevailed in northern and north-eastern municipalities and in the southeastern coastal zone of the Athens conurbation. the . On the whole. was in the upper and middle strata of the north-east. the party came first with 31 per cent of the vote. The age polarization of the electorate is unprecedented. polling 36 per cent. compared to figures of just 11 and 16 per cent for nd respectively. it too can be seen as a result of ideological shifts engendered by the economic crisis. though the gap was much narrower. displays greater similarities to the electoral geography of the conservative bloc. with 16 per cent as opposed to 11 in the cities. below its average of 8 per cent support in the capital. while in the western working-class and lower-income suburbs it received 5–7 per cent. pasok too did better in the countryside. by contrast. Conversely. syriza’s support among the over 65s was only 13 per cent.

As a consequence. these are carried out by security forces that have a significant proportion of proto-fascist Golden Dawn members in their ranks. and implosion of pasok. these include a portion of the right.106 nlr 76 social-spatial polarization of the electorate is more pronounced than it has been for most of the post-dictatorship period. This new polarization may in itself portend increasing social conflict. first the Centre Union (ek) party and then. syriza’s achievement is strongly reminiscent of the electoral success of the left in 1958. which are moving even farther from their original moorings as they seek to shore up the government’s legitimacy on its left flank. represented by the Independent Greeks party. This new cleavage cuts across the left–right divide. which is shifting increasingly to the right. Starting in the 1960s. involving the adoption of a strategy of tension. when the United Democratic Left (eda)—the legal mass party formed by the then-outlawed kke—won a quarter of the vote. The implementation of the Troika programme of austerity and privatization will require an escalating clampdown on the protests and popular mobilizations it will provoke. its social legitimacy would appear to be limited. The former pole is represented by the governing coalition.and working-class strata who have been impoverished by the economic crisis. but it is syriza that has emerged as the dominant political formation among the middle. The elections of May and June 2012 have ushered in a period of political transition: the old two-partyism. rather than on any strong ideological consensus. . and two centre-left parties in the form of pasok and Democratic Left. Confronting it are the anti-Memoranda forces. after the dictatorship. which has now collapsed. the repeat elections of 2012. marking the left’s return to the political stage after its defeat in the Civil War and the bitter repression that followed. The Samaras government has also ordered mass arrests of ‘foreigners’. is being replaced with a new polarity formed as a result of the neoliberal assault launched on Greek society by the implementation of the Memoranda. have overturned the long-standing primacy of the centre and centre-left parties over the left. comprising nd.and antiMemoranda forces against each other. pitting pro. Indeed. nd’s electoral victory was founded on intimidation of the electorate. seems quite likely. including those with Greek citizenship. In these conditions an authoritarian turn. Plastic bullets were recently used for the first time against a demonstration protesting the privatization of gold mines in northern Greece.

From this perspective. if something along these lines does occur. which is by no means certain. a radical yet still precarious confluence of the different historical currents of the left. In that sense. 11 per cent as ‘anti-capitalists/ anti-authoritarians’. 11 per cent as ‘social democrats’. and pasok in particular. 8 per cent as ‘communists’ and 6 per cent more generally as ‘leftists’. as a reconstitution of the social forces who are paying the most to prop up a broken financial system. the economic turbulence of the last three years has brought a deepening crisis of representative institutions—affecting not only parties and parliament but all public bodies—that has decimated the old political forces. June 2012.019 individuals by Public Issue. However. Whether it will fully materialize will depend on syriza maintaining current levels of support. . and have the least to gain from it.mavris: Greece 107 pasok had achieved a seemingly permanent electoral hegemony over working-class and radical voters. objective possibilities for the formation of a new large-scale party of the left. the Greek elections of 2012 may have implications far beyond the country’s borders.5 A new amalgam is being shaped. Their slump has generated. it will do so on completely different terms than in the past. 5 Nationwide telephone survey of 1. However. for the first time since the Civil War. the political provenance and ideological self-placement of current syriza voters are of particular interest: 31 per cent identify themselves as ‘socialists’.