Saturday, May 19, 2012

Greece Uncertain as Political Deadlock Forces New Election

Greek politics had been dominated by two leading political parties for 38 years from the end of the military regime in 1974. They are the centre right New Democracy (ND) founded by Konstantinos Karamanlis and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) founded by Andreas Papandreou. But, their predominance has been shattered by a combination of the debt crisis, economic recession and opposition to austerity measures. This has brought new political forces to the forefront of Greek politics.

Greece was already in economic difficulties by 2009. Kostas Karmanlis, the nephew of the elder Karmanlis was the then Prime Minister. He was swept aside by George Papandreou, son of the PASOK founder. George Papandreou was forced out of the job by the economic crisis in November 2011 when PASOK and ND formed a government of national unity under Lucas Papademos, supported by the smaller Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). This government promoted austerity measures backed by some leaders of the European Union, notably Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and opposed by many Greeks. They responded on May 6, 2012, by dealing severe blows on the PASOK, the ND and the LAOS. The ND managed win 108 out of 300 seats thanks to the 50 bonus seats they won by leading the popular vote. Meanwhile, the PASOK was pushed to third place by a hitherto insignificant left wing party, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). The LAOS meanwhile did not reach the 3% threshold required to win a seat in the Hellenic Parliament. Meanwhile, the ultra-right wing Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the parliament, taking nearly 7% of the votes. In 2009, they had won just around 0.3% of the popular vote.

Meanwhile, austerity was being dealt several more blows on the same day. For Nicolas Sarkozy, one main proponent, May 6, 2012, was the end of the road as Francois Hollande defeated him in the run-off to the French Presidency. The other proponent, the 'Iron Chancellor' Angela Merkel saw her party being defeated in the state election of Schleswig-Holstein. A week later, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, was defeated once again in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Therefore, anti austerity parties gained in elections throughout Europe in early May, 2012. In Greece, these parties won three fifth of the popular vote. However, transforming this in to a more lasting victory was a difficult task. Forming a new government was not as easy as defeating the former. With candidates from all shades of the political spectrum in the new parliament and no group with a clear majority, finding common ground was the insurmountable challenge.

The ND, with 108 seats was the obvious first choice to form a government. But the PASOK, their allies in the former national unity government, had won only 41 seats, just two seats less than what was needed for a new unity government. The problem was that no other party wanted to associate with the discredited alliance. All other political parties which won seats are either to the right of the ND or to the left of the PASOK in the political spectrum. No one took Golden Dawn as a possible partner in a coalition government. The right wing Independent Greeks had won only 33 seats and could not help the matters.

The leftist party SYRIZA was reluctant to associate with pro-austerity parties. Their argument was that it was wrong to say one thing at the election and do another. A more ideologically possible option open to them would have been to form a left wing government with the Communists and the Democratic Left. But, the three parties lacked enough seats to obtain a majority.

This has left the president of Greece with no option but to appoint a caretaker government and go for a new election. Set for June 17, this might be able to break the deadlock. As things stand, there will be a close contest between the ND and the SYRIZA to lead the polls and thereby win the 50 bonus seats. However, it is doubtful if the political deadlock will be broken as the Greeks still remain divided.

Image: George Voudouris, The Greek Parliament Building, May 17, 2012. (Wikimedia Commons)

No comments:

Post a Comment