ANEL leader Panos Kammenos arrives for a cabinet meeting. Photo: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty
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The Syriza-ANEL alliance shows the new Greek government has one goal: ending austerity

After a rebuff from the Communist Party of Greece, ANEL became an unlikely coalition partner. But the deal shows Syriza's priorities.

The announcement of the composition of the new, Syriza-led government of Greece was delayed for a few hours yesterday, apparently over a spat between coalition partners Syriza and Independent Greeks (ANEL) regarding the possible appointment of ANEL’s Nikos Nikolopoulos to a cabinet position. Nikolopoulos became famous, or rather infamous, when, in August 2014, he made a homophobic jibe at Luxembourg’s gay Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on social media.

The fact that the two parties now governing Greece could have such a disagreement before the composition of the government was officially announced is highly revealing of the tensions, or even contradictions, inherent to the unholy alliance forged between Syriza and ANEL. In the 25 January 2015 elections, Syriza garnered 149 seats in the Greek parliament, two short of a majority, and therefore had to seek a coalition partner in order to be able to govern. What may seem surprising to many, particularly outside of Greece, is that a radical left-wing government chose to ally itself with a socially conservative, virulently nationalist right-wing party whose leader, Panos Kammenos, espouses xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic views and who has a particular fondness for the “chemtrails” conspiracy theory. The very existence of such a coalition is in turn highly revealing of the state of utter decay of the Greek political scene – put simply, if Syriza wants to govern at this point and to push forward their anti-austerity agenda, their only possible coalition partner is ANEL.

The rationale behind Syriza’s choice is twofold. The first aspect has to do with the fact that calling for repeat elections to seek an absolute majority in parliament would be an extremely risky political gamble. The fact that, with unemployment nearing 30 per cent, youth unemployment 60 per cent and some 30 per cent of households in or at risk of poverty, Syriza garnered only 36.34 per cent of the vote shows that the party is still struggling to persuade Greek voters. Many perceive Syriza as untested because of its lack of experience in government. Calling for repeat elections does not guarantee that it would gain a larger share of the vote – it could even result in a backlash if the electorate is disappointed with Syriza failing to deliver a modicum of change. Furthermore, the fact that neo-Nazi Golden Dawn is the third largest political force in the newly-elected Greek parliament means that a new election campaign would begin in a toxic atmosphere, as the Greek constitution requires the three largest parties to take turns and seek to form a coalition before parliament is dissolved and new elections are called.

The second aspect of Syriza’s rationale has to do with the composition of the new parliament. The core of Syriza’s electoral platform is rolling back austerity, which rules out coalitions with New Democracy and PASOK but also with To Potami (“the river”), a so-called centrist party founded in February 2014 by journalist Stavros Theodorakis. To Potami has failed so far to present its programme – Theodorakis announced during the campaign that it would be presented on 26 January, i.e. after the elections, and also failed to deliver on that promise – but it is clear that the party considers any policy seeking to revoke the bailout agreements as a threat to Greece’s position in Europe. Furthermore, according to research conducted by investigative magazines HotDoc and UNFOLLOW, To Potami is funded by, and would thus be essentially a front for, Greek oligarchs – another challenge to Syriza’s platform, which includes front and centre the issue of dealing with high-level corruption.

This leaves two parties as possible anti-austerity coalition partners, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn being obviously off the cards. The first and obvious choice for a left-wing coalition would be the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), a well-established party that controls a powerful labour union. Alexis Tsipras stated repeatedly during the elections campaign that he would seek an alliance with them, only to be rebuffed by the KKE general secretary, Dimitris Koutsoumpas, who did not even agree to meet with him on the day after the elections, let alone discuss the possibility of cooperation. The fact that KKE chose to stick to a hard line of ideological purity and rejection of the European project itself meant that Syriza’s only possible choice of a coalition partner became ANEL.

The establishment of a Syriza-ANEL coalition, as awkward as it is, sends a clear message to Greece and Europe alike: the new Greek government has one and only priority, ending austerity. Every other issue will take a back seat to this. The road ahead is bound to be fraught with problems, and it is difficult to see how such a coalition can last for more than a few months, perhaps a year. It is highly likely that there will be new elections in Greece in the near future unless MPs defect from third parties to join Syriza, thus securing for it a straight majority in parliament. However, yesterday’s events ended in a rather unexpected way: a day that started with a spat over the inclusion of a far-rightist in government ended with the formation of what can truly be described as a leftist cabinet. With Panos Kammenos’s flamboyant past, it is obvious that there will be several more hiccups along the way, but there is cause for extremely cautious optimism.  

A longer version of this article first appeared on theirategreek.wordpress.com. Theodora is on Twitter @irategreek

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Labour to strip "abusive" registered supporters of their vote in the leadership contest

The party is asking members to report intimidating behaviour - but is vague about what this entails. 

Labour already considered blocking social media users who describe others as "scab" and "scum" from applying to vote. Now it is asking members to report abuse directly - and the punishment is equally harsh. 

Registered and affiliated supporters will lose their vote if found to be engaging in abusive behaviour, while full members could be suspended. 

Labour general secretary Iain McNicol said: “The Labour Party should be the home of lively debate, of new ideas and of campaigns to change society.

“However, for a fair debate to take place, people must be able to air their views in an atmosphere of respect. They shouldn’t be shouted down, they shouldn’t be intimidated and they shouldn’t be abused, either in meetings or online.

“Put plainly, there is simply too much of it taking place and it needs to stop."

Anyone who comes across abusive behaviour is being encouraged to email validation@labour.org.uk.

Since the bulk of Labour MPs decided to oppose Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, supporters of both camps have traded insults on social media and at constituency Labour party gatherings, leading the party to suspend most meetings until after the election. 

In a more ominous sign of intimidation, a brick was thrown through the window of Corbyn challenger Angela Eagle's constituency office. 

McNicol said condemning such "appalling" behaviour was meaningless unless backed up by action: “I want to be clear, if you are a member and you engage in abusive behaviour towards other members it will be investigated and you could be suspended while that investigation is carried out. 

“If you are a registered supporter or affiliated supporter and you engage in abusive behaviour you will not get a vote in this leadership election."

What does abusive behaviour actually mean?

The question many irate social media users will be asking is, what do you mean by abusive? 

A leaked report from Labour's National Executive Committee condemned the word "traitor" as well as "scum" and "scab". A Labour spokeswoman directed The Staggers to the Labour website's leadership election page, but this merely stated that "any racist, abusive or foul language or behaviour at meetings, on social media or in any other context" will be dealt with. 

But with emotions running high, and trust already so low between rival supporters, such vague language is going to provide little confidence in the election process.