Belgium recently went more than 500 days without a government, as one political leader after another tried to put together a coalition. Greece’s New Democracy Party gave it three quarters of a day, and then told the President that they had no chance — nobody, but nobody would join them in power.
Having taken 18.8% of the vote in the weekend’s elections, New Democracy holds not 55 seats of the 300-seat parliament but 108. Why? Well in order to try and avoid deadlocks, the Greek electoral system has 250 elected seats — and a 50-seat bonus for the winner, even if it gets in by no more than a whisker.
It’s a measure of how fractured Greek politics is now that even the 50-seat bung wasn’t sufficient to make a two-party coalition possible. New Democracy’s “natural” partners in a new government to implement the troika’s (EU, IMF, ECB) imposed solution for Greece, would be PASOK — after all, the two parties of the centre were together in the interim government.
But PASOK, amazingly, didn’t gain enough seats — taking only 41 — to give an ND-PASOK government a solid 151 to form government. In reality, any sane Greek PM would want a buffer of 5-10 seats as members of both parties will immediately resign whenever further ramifications of the austerity packages come down.
Nor is PASOK in any mood to make ND’s life easier. When New Democracy went into the caretaker government last year, it played every trick in the book to be seen as both insiders to the process, while also protesting the “humiliating” conditions, etc. Antonis Samaras, the hapless leader, had, at the time, refused to sign the most recent document guaranteeing commitment to the austerity measures and the troika deal, holding up the deal for days — but with no intent of repudiating it.
Consequently, PASOK’s demands to be part of a coalition were an example of revenge served cold –including stipulations that other parties be part of the coalition (PASOK knew they wouldn’t agree), that Samaras not be PM, and that a statue of Taki Theodoracopulos with his c-ck hanging out be erected in Syntagma Square (I may have made up that last one).
Predictably, Democratic Left and Syriza, with 19 and 52 seats respectively, also refused to join. Samaras, somewhat audaciously, then tried to persuade Syriza into a two-party coalition. Since Syriza is made up of a eurocommunist party Synaspismos (itself actually a coalition but oy vey), and a few Trotskyist, etc, parties, such a coalition would be the equivalent of Socialist Alternative’s Sandra Bloodworth becoming Treasurer in a Turnbull government.
Samaras has now ‘handed back’ the mandate, to the President, who has given Syriza’s 38-year-old leader, Alexis Tsipras, three days to form a coalition. A Syriza-PASOK-Dem Left coalition would have 122 seats, not nearly enough. It may, however, be able to get support from the new Independent Greeks Party, a break-off from New Democracy. Panos Kammenos, the leader of IG, was expelled from ND for refusing to sign the troika agreement and support the interim government.
They are essentially the paleo-conservative wing of the Greek right. Very paleo indeed — Kammenos talks of an “international conspiracy” to down Greece, going far beyond the obvious collusion and bond price-fixing that pitched Greece from recession into crisis in 2008-09. Nevertheless there is more chance of IG working with Syriza than with ND.
One’s instinct is that Syriza would genuinely try and put together a coalition, but it too will have trouble in hammering out a new common approach to the EU deal. PASOK was hitherto fervent about taking just about any deal the EU offered — whether it retains that commitment will come down to who did and didn’t get it in the neck in the 100-plus-seat loss it has just suffered. However, since many PASOK dissidents had already departed or been expelled, it may be that the party is now a rump of centre-left technocrats who would find it hard to agree with Syriza’s refusal of austerity conditions — and the implicit threat of default that brings about.
One temptation for Syriza would be to set conditions that PASOK could not accept — and thus making the formation of government practically impossible. Fresh snap-elections would be called, and Syriza would hope to persuade another 2-3% of voters from elsewhere, overtake ND and gain the 50-seat bonus. With 110 seats it would then have a bit of wiggle room to use Democratic Left plus either Independent Greeks or PASOK as a third partner or supporter. Most Greek politicians … well it would be a stereotype to say that if democracy is the people’s vehicle, most Greek politicians would be happy to back it into a tree, and claim the insurance but there I just did it.
But I think Syriza has a bit more genuine commitment to raising the level of politics in Greece than some of the older parties. The Synaspismos group evolved from a group called Greek Left, a eurocommunist group who believed in democratic politics, participation in the EC/EU — albeit with major changes to the form of the EU — and a mixed economy. Typically, the party of leftish professionals, they occupy the same social-political slot as the Greens do in Germany, Australia and elsewhere.
Their stunning success in busting out of their class base — professionals would occupy no more than 5-6% of the population — suggests future scenarios whereby Green parties might make a similar leap, in conditions of crisis.
Syriza have hewed to a pretty consistent line, which strikes many people as more realistic than the KKE Communist parties’ rejectionist line. I admit to being surprised at their current success — since for years they have barely registered on the radar of most Greek people. I have been versed in the reasonings of men, but fate is stronger than anything I have known, and an afternoon is a long time in Greek politics.