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28 January 2015updated 30 Jan 2015 1:21pm

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.

By Theodora Oikonomides

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.

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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 Theodora is on Twitter @irategreek

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