Greece: What to expect from the election campaign

PM Antonis Samaras called a snap legislative election to be held on 25 January 2015 after failing to elect a presidential candidate in the third round of voting. Read few comments related to political situation in Greece.

Guard at the Greek parliament building. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Guard at the Greek parliament building. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Questions:

1. What do you expect from SYRIZA and from “mainstream” parties during the campaign, on what are they going to base the election campaign in your opinion?

2. Do you expect that the EU will somehow publicly comment on the prospect of victorious SYRIZA and would it be wise or not, and why?

Answers:

Nikolaos ZahariadisProfessor, Department of Government, University of Alabama at Birmingham

1. It’s very difficult to estimate what to expect from SYRIZA. The leadership has been adamant about “forcing” new elections on the basis of relaxing the current austerity measures. They say they will do this by “tearing the memorandum.” While this rhetoric appeals to many desperate Greeks, SYRIZA also does not speak with one voice. The leader, Mr. Tsipras, says he will renegotiate the bailout terms but without any unilateral measures, i.e., he will not renounce Greece’s debt unless he is forced to do so. What the latter means remains a mystery because it appears to me that he is sending two messages. The first aims at calming Greece’s creditors while the other leaves open the possibility to take extreme measures, which plays well domestically. Others within SYRIZA have been far more assertive in proclaiming the right to do what they see fit, i.e., renounce the debt, undo reforms, etc, without regard to the consequences. The “mainstream” parties (such as New Democracy and PASOK) will try to convince voters of the terrible consequences if SYRIZA comes to power on the basis that he is promising everything to everyone (more jobs, more money, higher salaries) without explaining where the money will come from. The problem is no one will likely focus on realistic solutions and options because they are all very painful and pain does not get you votes.

The campaign will be very polarized, partly as a result of not being able to agree on a new President and the way this was done, as each party will attempt to convince voters that Greece’s predicament is the other party’s fault (whoever the other party is). The sad part, in my opinion, is that there will not likely be a clear winner who holds the majority of seats in parliament. Some parties, I expect, will disappear, such as DHMAR (the Democratic Left), as their voters might prefer going with they perceive is the winner, SYRIZA. The same holds for the socialist PASOK, if Papandreou decides to create his own party, which he will. Both will suffer. In such a polarized environment, a likely coalition government becomes not only likely but also unworkable.

2. EU leaders will in all likelihood stay out of the electoral process in Greece. They will be wise not to comment on the prospects of a victorious SYRIZA primarily in fear of skewing the results. They are concerned but unsure of the outcome. In all probability it will be a very tight race and any commentary for or against any party will be taken in Greece as interference.

Dimitris Tsarouhas Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Bilkent University

1. The campaign will take place in a deeply polarized atmosphere. SYRIZA will campaign on its willingness to renegotiate the country’s debt stock and its ability to be the spark of wider changes in the Eurozone’s political landscape. Its people often talk about how their victory in Greece will be the first among more that they predict (e.g. Podemos in Spain and Sinn Fein in Ireland). On the other hand, Nea Dimokratia will campaign on stability and its desire to “get the job done”. It will accuse SYRIZA of amateurism and adventurism, of rekindling Grexit scenario through its political stance.

2. Recent statements by Juncker supporting the current government backfired heavily. I therefore expect EU officials to be much more careful and to take a neutral stance, committing themselves to working with whomever assumes office after the elections. German officials and politicians will stress that the country’s commitments are valid for all parties regardless of who wins – and such statements will add fodder to Nea Dimokratia’s rhetoric regarding SYRIZA having lost touch with reality.

Roman GerodimosSenior Lecturer in Global Current Affairs, The Media School, Bournemouth University

1. The parties of the governing coalition will try to win the election with a message of stability and fear of Grexit should Syriza win the election. This is a message that worked back in June 2012, but it will be harder to sell this time around. While key indicators (such as projections for surplus and growth) have created room for optimism, there is widespread fatigue in Greek society from almost five years of harsh austerity measures and less people tend to believe that there is an imminent danger of a ‘bank run’ or a catastrophe should Syriza win the election.

Syriza and the anti-austerity parties have not really put forward a tangible plan for renegotiating the terms of the Memorandum (bailout agreement) or a platform for moving the country forward, but their core message is one of (albeit abstract) hope and change. If enough people don’t feel scared enough to support New Democracy, Syriza may end up winning the election – not with a huge share of the vote, or with enough MPs to form a government on its own, but with enough votes to bring a seismic shift to the Greek political system as the winning party will get a 50-seat bonus and will be invited by the President of the Republic to form the next government.

My sense is that one of the key issues in this election campaign will be the question of which party will take the 3rd position, as only the leaders of the first three parties get a (successive) mandate to try to form a government. Many are concerned that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn may finish third, so we may see a movement in favour of The River or any other democratic party that looks like it may get third place.

2. Insofar as the stance of the EU is concerned, I would not expect an explicit endorsement of one or more parties (and that might not be a wise thing to do anyway, as Greek voters are very sensitive to even a remote indication of outside intervention in domestic affairs). What we may well see is various EU and IMF officials pointing out that whichever party wins and whatever government emerges after the election will have to stick to the agreed plan and honour its international obligations.

Alexander KazamiasSenior Lecturer in Politics, Coventry University

1. We have already a foretaste of how the election campaign will unfold from the developments of its first 24 hours.  The ruling coalition will mainly run a negative campaign, partly because it is lagging behind in the polls and partly because its record in office has nothing appealing to showcase.  The only positive message from PM Samaras so far is that his government came ‘very close’ to exiting Greece from the tough austerity period.  In other words, the best he can tell the voters is that they should re-elect him because he will soon stop doing what he has done to them over the past 30 months.  Otherwise, ND will continue its familiar campaign of terror against SYRIZA as the party that will allegedly blow up the Eurozone.  To be fair, Samaras has really nothing better to say.

By contrast, I was surprised by Tsipras’s speech at the launch of SYRIZA’s campaign last night.  Although he repeated the familiar attacks on the catastrophic effects of austerity, on-going corruption and the responsibility of the mainstream parties in plunging Greece in this crisis in the first place, he also had a strong positive message.  He is speaking about radically changing Greece.  Moreover, he is the first Greek opposition leader I recall who, during an election campaign, who found the courage to ask voters ‘to change their old bad habits’ and stop depending on clientelism, nepotism and corruption.  Of course, his positive message also includes ambitious pronouncements, such the promise to restructure the state bureaucracy.  This is a core theme among all Greek modernizers, but such abstract commitments usually betray shallow thinking and limited political will.  Overall, however, SYRIZA will campaign largely against the disastrous effects of austerity, but its message will also be positive, not least because its leaders are acutely aware of their historic responsibility as the first party of the Greek left in a century which is likely to win power.

2. The EU has already made several heavy-handed interventions against SYRIZA earlier this month.  Commission President, Jean Claude Junker, when criticised in the European Parliament about his bias for what he called ‘familiar faces’ in Greece, insisted that he is entitled to expressing such views since his role is ‘political’.  Of course, if he would do the same in next year’s British national elections, he would be probably removed from his position instantly.  Nevertheless, because Greece is a small, southern member-state, EU leaders tend to apply different standards when dealing with it.  I would therefore expect such interventions to continue, because SYRIZA is seriously threatening the dominant way of thinking in the Union.  However, if these interventions subside, I would assume it will be because opinion polls have shown Messers Junker, Moscovici and their allies that such unacceptable moves are actually turning voters closer to SYRIZA than to ND.  Despite their influence, many EU leaders do not realise that after what they have done to the Greek economy and its people, their image in the country is so tarnished that their semi-colonialist interventions could end up actually harming Samaras.

Kostas Lavdas, Professor of Hellenic and European Studies, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

1. Greek politics used to be polarized and confrontational – recent attempts to overcome polarization appear to be failing as the short electoral period between now and January 25th promises to be full of intense and heated exchanges between the two main contenders, governing ND and opposition SYRIZA. Like Podemos in Spain, SYRIZA aims to project a radical, left-wing alternative, but there are serious questions regarding the party program’s coherence and numbers (people have often remarked that they don’t add up). Greek electorate being fed up with years of strict economic policies and austerity, with unemployment still very high, a turn to the left seems likely but the victory for SYRIZA if indeed it materializes will probably be marginal. According to the constitution, after the election there will be three consecutive attempts to form a government and if all fail, there will be another election sometime in February.

2. EU institutions and other member states will probably intervene with statements at various points, but there is a thin line that cannot be crossed: a statement or a move that may appear heavy-handed may well backfire.

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One Response

  1. europe needs of modern governace and not anti European governace

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