The New Democracy party has won the Greek legislative elections with 29.7 per cent on the vote, narrowly beating the radical left-wing party SYRIZA, which earned 26.9 per cent, in what is widely seen as a referendum on the Greek people’s acceptance of the EU-imposed austerity package.
Under Greek electoral law, ND is awarded an extra 50 parliamentary seats for coming in first place, which means it has 129 seats overall. A viable coalition requires at least 150, however, so it will still have to find a coalition partner. It is most likely to join forces with the centre-left party, PASOK, previously its major opponent in fights for the centre-ground of Greek politics but now an uneasy bedfellow as implementing the European memorandum (which ties the Greek government to large spending cuts) takes priority.
A PASOK-ND coalition would have 162 seats, and appears likely to be topped up with another 17 from the Democratic Left party (DIMAR), formed of ex-PASOK and SYRIZA MPs. There are several hurdles to be overcome before this coalition can be put in place, not least of which is the self-serving nature of PASOK itself.
Reports from Greece indicate that PASOK’s leaders are only too aware that being in charge of a second round of crippling spending cuts could destroy their electoral base, particularly when they have such a viable contender for the left’s votes in the form of SYRIZA. As a result, senior figures at PASOK are suggesting that they won’t join a coalition unless SYRIZA joins as well – something which the radical left is unlikely to countenance.
While it seems likely that PASOK are only making such a demand out of a desire not to seem too eager to run into the arms of their former enemies, it highlights the difficulty this coalition will have in doing anything not related to the near-state of emergency that Greece is currently experiencing. Many of the more pessamistic analysts and commentators are predicting a breakdown in relations before the end of the year, leading to a third set of elections – one which SYRIZA would almost certainly win.
Even if the full ND-PASOK-DIMAR coalition comes about, all Greece has achieved today is a return to the status quo of earlier this year. Greece remains in the euro for the foreseeable future, but the root of its problems with the EU are no closer to being addressed. The austerity which the coalition will impose will keep Germany and the ECB happy, which will keep money flowing into the country for the time being (an undoubtedly good thing, since reports had suggested that Greece was likely to run out of money to pay its public sector around mid-July without more European funds), but eventually that spigot will have to be turned off.
In addition, the bank jog which could see Greece being mechanically ejected from the single currency won’t stop just because SYRIZA came in second place. Deposits have been steadily flowing out of Greek banks since 2009, and if too many euro end up in German banks, the Greek banking sector could fail in one go.
Even the surface level negotiations – the ones which don’t solve the underlying contradictions, but merely provide the funding and credibility for Greece to carry on as it has – could go in any number of directions. The troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the IMF) is likely to head to the country as soon as there is someone to negotiate with, and there have been reports that they are likely to give the Greek people a “reward” for being co-operative. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle suggested that the coutnry may be given more time to repay its debts, and the Financial Times last week claimed that the EU was preparing to offer Greece discounted loans if New Democracy won the elections.
When the dust settles, the European Union will find that it has to decide whether it heads down the road of ever deeper fiscal integration, turning Greece into