Greece has a new government: a radical left – radical right coalition between the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Independent Greeks (ANEL). The 25 January 2015 elections were the most critical in decades not only for Greece but also for Europe. Greece is the first country among the European ‘debtors’ to elect a government with a clear anti-austerity mandate. There are expectations of a potential domino effect: already PODEMOS has promised to emulate SYRIZA’s victory in the upcoming 2015 Spanish national elections.
SYRIZA, previously marginalised in the party system, managed to attract 36.34 per cent of the Greek vote, which translated to 149 seats, just two seats short of forming a majority government. The centre-right New Democracy, which was in power since 2012 and has been associated with austerity and harsh economic measures, came second with 27.81 per cent of the vote. Essentially the result was a landslide for SYRIZA that managed to attract a broad voting base.
However, it was not only the far left that benefited from the election. The ultra-nationalist extreme right-wing Golden Dawn came third with 6.28 per cent of the vote translating to 17 seats. While it lost marginally since the 2012 elections, the result indicates that it the Golden Dawn has now consistent support despite the fact that its leading members are currently imprisoned facing indictment and the party did little campaigning.
The River, a centrist party putting forward a socially liberal agenda, came fourth with only 0.23 per cent less than the Golden Dawn and the same number of seats at 17. This indicates low levels of support for the centre ground.
The overall election results are hardly surprising given the context within which they took place: high levels of unemployment, disillusionment and social discontent. Both the campaign as well as the resulting coalition confirm the strength of the pro and anti-bailout cleavage.
The Party campaigns
The debate has taken place along the lines of continuity versus change, stability versus instability, Euro versus Grexit, austerity versus growth, and fear versus hope. During the short pre-election period, discussions were structured around the contrast between on the one hand hope for a better future and on the other hand fear for a worse future to come. This illustrates the extent to which emotions were at the heart of party campaigns. Parties tapped into people’s insecurities in an attempt to attract their vote. It is precisely the fear versus hope campaign that has polarised the debate.
SYRIZA was the advocate for ‘hope’: the party’s logo ‘Hope is on the way’ was accompanied by a rhetoric emphasizing a new beginning, justice and equality, an end to the humanitarian disaster that austerity has created, a new Europe and a future with dignity. On the other hand New Democracy attempted to mobilise on the basis of fear. Its campaign, which in sum was characterised by scaremongering, was centred on the potential consequences of a SYRIZA victory including, the downgrading of Greece’s credit rating, a Greek default, a Grexit, and an overall economic disaster, which would ‘undo’ the sound economic policies that the New Democracy–led coalition government has been implementing since 2012. It appears that hope is a stronger emotion than fear and SYRIZA’s campaign was the most successful.
The new SYRIZA-led coalition government
What unites SYRIZA and ANEL is their anti-austerity stance. But what divides them is their viewpoints on key social issues, including nationalism, religion and immigration. Independent Greeks is a radical right party emphasizing what they term ‘national issues’: for example the Macedonian question, Cyprus and Greece’s relationship with Turkey, which they have identified as non-negotiable ‘red lines’. This party may be classified as conservative authoritarian, emphasising the motto ‘fatherland, religion and family’. These terms would seem to fundamentally contradict SYRIZA’s left wing socially open ideals, such as their pro-immigration stance, their calls for the separation of Church and State and support for same sex marriage. Alexis Tsipras is the first Greek Prime Minister ever to take a political rather than an religious oath for his new government.
However, it is more strategic rather than ideological considerations that have guided the formation of this coalition. The inclusion of Rahil Makri, a former ANEL MP, in SYRIZA gave signs that the party is guided more by the pro versus anti-austerity cleavage rather than the left-right cleavage. Or this could be a good indication that SYRIZA is becoming a catch-all party attempting to attract a social based broader than its traditional left-wing supporters. Already before the elections SYRIZA progressively began to compromise its more radical positions. When it entered the Greek political scene as a contender in 2012, it did so on a radical left platform bearing all the features of a party in opposition. Emphasising anti-establishment ideas, SYRIZA had declared that it would renegotiate austerity at any cost. As the party got closer to power, it began to resemble a party in office: moderating its position in a bid to attract broader electoral support and put forward policies it can actually pull through.
This article was co-authored by Daphne Halikipoulou, University of Reading, and Sofia Vasilopoulou, University of York. They have also co-authored a forthcoming book on the Golden Dawn entitled ‘The Golden Dawn’s ‘Nationalist Solution’: Explaining the Rise of the Far Right in Greece’
Please note: This article has been published in LSE EUROPP Blog, and the Danish newspaper Politiken