Monday, May 19, 2014

Greek Elections: Round One

With the first round of Greece's city and municipal elections over the government coalition parties and the opposition have being trying to persuade the public that they were the winners in yesterday's vote. However, unlike parliamentary or EU elections the conclusions that can be drawn are not so clear cut for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, local election results in Greece, as in the rest of the world are just as likely to be influenced by local issues such as rubbish collection, state of the roads etc. as they are by the party affiliations of the candidate. This mean clear comparisons between these results and national ones cannot be made so easily, for example in Greece's two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki independent candidates came first, but in Crete PASOK retained its lead in the municipal elections and conservatives aligned with New Democracy did very well in Macedonia.

Also the fact that many candidates stood as independents or as members of parties that have no clear affiliation with the national ones also makes more general conclusions difficult to make. While in the big urban areas the candidates favoured by the parties are easy to pick out, in other regions the connection, if any between local political groups and candidates and the national parties is less clear to many voters.

Finally, only one fifth of the contested positions have been decided, the rest will have to wait for the second round next Sunday.

The Guardian talked about an anti-austerity backlash and In Athens and Thessaloniki mayoral elections the candidates supported by New Democracy and PASOK fared badly, though how much of that was due to anti-government sentiment and how much was due to less than stellar contenders is hard to say.

However, all these caveats aside a picture does seem to be emerging that confirms recent opinion polls that SYRIZA is gaining strength and that candidates identified with parties that make up the coalition government. are losing support. The fact that the party has made gains in the urban areas is more proof that its is no longer just a raggedy band of protesters and stands poised to replace PASOK as the main opposition party on a permanent basis. Once PASOK loses its stronghold in local government then its ability to keep intact a party machine that depends more on patron client relations than it does on ideology is severely compromised.

New Democracy's position also seems to be under threat, not only from SYRIZA on the Left but Golden Dawn on the right. Despite the fact that much of leadership is behind bars facing criminal investigation, the neo -Nazi party's level of support was back to 2012 levels. Even in chic upmarket neighbourhoods such as Kolonaki in central Athens, they won 13.7% of the vote, in other poorer districts it topped 20%.

The prime minister's campaign strategy of pulling to the Right and co-opting the rhetoric and policies of Golden Dawn seems not to be paying off. Nor has the anti-Golden Dawn media coverage in the pro-government press seemed to have driven away voters.

The May 25th EU parliamentary vote will give a clearer picture of where Greece's parties stand in the eyes of the electorate when the contenders will be standing on party tickets for the 22 MEP seats. In 2009 PASOK and New Democracy won 15 of those, but this time around they'll be lucky to get half that number and there is a good chance that PASOK will get just one seat.

Already SYRIZA is promoting the idea that the EU vote is a referendum on austerity itself and that a poor showing by the government will mark the end of its popular mandate and so be the reason to hold new national parliamentary elections. On the other hand both prime minister Antonis Samaras and deputy prime minister, Evangelos Venizelos are calling upon supporters to vote for the coalition in the name of stability and so as to save a fledgling economic recovery.

My prediction for next week's EU vote is;

1 SYRIZA 20-25%
2 New Democracy 18-23%
3 Golden Dawn 8-10%
4 Potami (River)  6-8%
5 KKE (Greek Communist Party) 4-5% and Olive Tree (PASOK) 4-6%

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