The first projections had already revealed that the election on 25 January would lead to a fundamental change of political direction. This turned out to be true even though the goal of achieving an absolute majority was just missed out on. Instead of the required number of 151 Parliamentarians; SYRIZA now has 149 out of 300 deputies in the Greek Parliament (Vouli).
The official final results state the following distribution of seats:
Nea Dimokratia (ND)
At the heart of SYRIZA’s election campaign was the government programme presented in September 2014 in Thessaloniki. An updated version of the programme was presented on 3 January at the party congress by Alexis Tsipras1. The programme paper’s validity and binding nature was stressed repeatedly and is based on the following pillars:
It was frequently emphasised that the measures the paper contains are no mere pre-election promises, but binding pledges. They do not contain everything the party would like to implement, but merely reflect what can be immediately implemented under the given circumstances. SYRIZA’s defined goal was to achieve a share of the vote which would give the party an absolute majority in Parliament and therefore enable it to implement the full party programme without compromises.
The slogan “Hope is on its way” was ever-present, on everybody’s lips and could be seen on election posters in rainbow colours. While Alexis Tsipras spared no effort and replied to each and every question he was asked regarding the party programme and the party’s political goals in press conferences; TV interviews and queries under the hashtag #asktsipras, incumbent Prime Minister Samaras’s last interview was held weeks ago and a scheduled interview was cancelled. Due to the disastrous results of Samaras’ party’s term of office, the party had had a hard time articulating its political positions. Therefore, scaremongering about a potential SYRIZA victory remained its main goal. The reluctance of European and German officials to intervene in the Greek election campaign - unlike in 2012 when they fanned fears of national bankruptcy and a Grexit in order to secure Samaras’ position of power - made it almost impossible for ND to stand up to SYRIZA.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) – SYRIZA’s preferred coalition partner – had made it clear repeatedly that it was not available for negotiations and had categorically refused to form a coalition. A meeting set up for the day after the election between Tsipras and the secretary-general of the KKE, Dimitris Koutsoumpas, was rejected by the latter, suggesting that they had nothing to talk about.2
Neither “To Potami” (“the river”) – a party wrongly depicted as left-wing liberal by the international media- nor the former parties of government: the ND and PASOK, are options as coalition partners. Potami was founded in spring 2014 in the run-up to the European elections by the journalist Stavros Theodorakis. The party’s continuous presence in the media and its image as a new and innovative party go hand in hand with an absence of well-defined political positions on austerity, privatisation and the memoranda. The situation of the country and Greek society are depicted as negative or even catastrophic. However, it is not contextualised with neoliberal political patterns. The party presented 21 theses to the public which envisage a further reduction of income for social insurance providers, as well as opening up the education sector to private investors3. During the election campaign, party founder Theodorakis emphasised repeatedly that it was necessary for Potami to take part in the negotiations with European partners and to present its political positions. He was not able, however, to formulate the party’s positions upon multiple requests.4 Furthermore, in the short period of its existence the party has “excelled” at producing sexist TV ads5 and at voicing racist and homophobic statements.6 Party leader Theodorakis’ authoritarian leadership style, the party’s collaboration with the ultra-neoliberal party, Drasi, as well as the participation of certain public figures7 that had changed party affiliation as “reformers” in the course of their political career8, had led to resentment and members leaving the party.9
Theodorakis usually has a casual appearance and used to work for MEGA, a private TV channel, for a long period of time. Giorgos Bobolas, a large scale business entrepreneur, owns about one quarter of this TV channel. As the owner of Pegasus Publishing S.A.10, Bobolas also (partially) owns and/or operates several daily newspapers, online information portals and magazines. Bobolas’ construction business, Ellaktor, is involved in dubious tendering procedures and owns shares in the gold mines in Chalkidiki.11 Potami boss Theodorakis has repeatedly advocated the implementation of projects contracted to Bobolas relating to garbage disposal in the region of Attica.12 Even though Theodorakis resembles a motivational speaker more than a member of Greek big capital, this by no means hides the fact that the waters of Potami are too deep and murky, for them to come into the equation as a possible coalition partner for a party which justified its candidacy by its wish to break the “entangled triangle between political parties, economic oligarchy and banks” (Alexis Tsipras, 03/01/2015).
The swift formation of the coalition between SYRIZA and the Anexartitoi Ellines (AN.EL., “independent Greeks“) party was met with incomprehension in other European countries. While the indignation of middle-class parties and the mainstream media is to be ascribed to hypocrisy rather than to serious concerns regarding democracy and rule of law13, the concerns of numerous SYRIZA supporters in other European countries makes a closer examination of the coalition partner necessary: AN.EL. was founded by the former ND deputy Panos Kammenos in February 2012. In its founding manifesto, the party pledges itself to popular sovereignty, the protection of the constitution, national pride and parliamentary democracy. Apart from that, the party calls for the abolition of the memoranda which are perceived as an attack by the new world order. In item 6 AN.EL. pledges itself to equal rights (isonomy), solidarity, justice, meritocracy and equality and commits itself to protecting Greek families and all citizens from the attacks of the market. Its commitment to the values of the Greek Orthodox church and its positive impact on the people and the nation go hand in hand with the protection of religious freedom.14 At a press conference a few days before the election, Kammenos had declared himself against the Dublin II Regulation which provides for undocumented migrants being detained in Greece against their will and underlined that every human life is of equal value, independent of its country of origin. “Illegal migrants must be given the possibility to travel to a country in which they can live without being subjected to violence or the methods of Mr Voridis15 or the Golden Dawn. In Greece this is not possible”16 Kammenos stated.
The delegates’ speeches in the course of the party’s founding convention in February 2012 mainly focused on praising the chairman, Greek cultural heritage and the Greek Orthodox religion and condemning Greece’s sell-out to its creditors.17 The political agenda of the years between 2012 and 2015 shaped and accentuated this seemingly chaotic accumulation of patriotic, anti-neoliberal and Christian Orthodox positions which rarely had matched the right-wing extremist profile pinned on the party. For example, in June 2013, the party positioned itself clearly against the shut-down of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation ERT. It supported the 595 cleaners who were laid off by the ministry of economy and called for the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of twelve persons in the Farmakonisi refugee tragedy. Associating Kammenos and his party with the Right of the political spectrum is out of the question. Pro-memoranda and anti-memoranda attitudes have overtaken the political division between Right and Left and are relevant to the adopting of attitudes in the current political circumstances. In other words, the self-positioning of a young party such as AN.EL as an anti-memoranda party, results in certain positions being adopted on privatisation and the dismantlement of workers’ rights but also on “side effects” such as dismantling democracy, the state and police violence becoming more and more authoritarian. These positions shape the party’s political profile and the relationship with its voters in a way that cannot be taken back without political losses.
The election of 25 January has led to a unique situation. The avalanche of neoliberalism in the past five years has brought radical changes to the established patterns of political attitudes and the party spectrum. For the first time in European history, a party of the Left has emerged as the winner of an election. For the first time in post-war European history, a national-socialist party whose leaders are facing trial for establishing a criminal association and for contract killings is the third strongest force in a parliament.
The answer to the question of why SYRIZA has preferred to establish a coalition with AN.EL. rather than opting for new elections is a complex one. Firstly, the people (who took to the streets between spring 2011 and February 2012 and took part in mass protests) had already been waiting for two years for SYRIZA’s victory. And secondly, the majority of the Greek population did not vote for SYRIZA because of the party’s positions on migration, women’s rights and gay marriage, but rather for an improvement in their individual living conditions which they could actually notice. For these reasons, a second ballot would have been hard to explain. Also, Greek electoral law contains rules that result in travel costs for many voters. These would have been impossible for SYRIZA voters to pay for a second time. Therefore, achieving the absolute majority of votes in the second ballot would have been far from secured.
The distribution of government roles has shown that SYRIZA is not exclusively focusing on the abolition of the memoranda, as claimed by certain sources. Critical areas such as migration policies and policing are assigned to ministries led by SYRIZA.18The damage Kammenos may cause as the Secretary of Defence can be estimated to be rather limited with his deputy being SYRIZA’s Kostas Isychos. The subministry for the regions of Macedonia and Thrace used to occupy a full ministry in the past. The fact that SYRIZA has many voters in these regions makes it less worrying that this subministry is now assigned to ANEL deputy Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha. Tsipras is the first head of government who did not swear the oath of office to a Greek Orthodox priest, but to the president of the State.
In addition, Tsipras’ highly symbolic wreath-laying ceremony in Kaisariani, the place of execution of numerous fighters of the Left resistance against the German occupation, highlights the fact that the Greek government undoubtedly is committed to left-wing positions and to the left-wing identity of the party.
The election on 25 January has shown that the Left can achieve a victory. This victory cannot be called into question by the necessary formation of a coalition and the missed absolute majority. The electoral result in Greece shows that sustainably changing societal balances of power is indeed a process which takes a long time. If the Left wants to persevere and serve the purpose of promoting emancipatory processes, creating scope for action, providing a voice and political home to subaltern societies, it cannot refrain from taking certain tactical steps in order to get closer to its strategic goals.