Thursday, January 08, 2015

Greek elections - state of play so far

The Greek national election campaign is now well under way and all parties involved have started their campaigns, both on the road an in the media. The Greek prime prime minister, Antonis Samaras kicked off New Democracy's efforts with a televised rally in a hotel in city of Larissa, almost immediately followed by SYRIZA leader's rally in a stadium in Athens. The contrast could not have been greater, while the prime minister gave a lacklustre performance which meet with lukewarm response, even among party faithful, Alexis Tsipras on the other hand showed just how far he's come as a public speaker, both energising the party base with his speech and showing that he was clearly setting himself out as a national leader.

In the meantime, coalition party leader Evangelos Venizelos addressed PASOK party members in a cafe, reminding viewers that the glory days of the party when they could attract crowds numbering hundreds of thousands were well and truly over.

To add to the uncertainty surrounding the most unpredictable Greek election in years, ex-prime minister and once leader of PASOK Giorgos Papandreou announced his formation of a new party, The Movement of Democratic Socialists in the same period, a move that was quickly condemned by the current PASOK leader as "irrational and unethical". Some media outlets were even predicting, rather generously as it would later turn out, that the new party would garner anything up to 6% of the poll, so allowing it representation in parliament.

New Democracy's campaign which as being spraying the internet with banner ads and pop up non-stop since the day of the vote for president has been focused on playing on fears of ordinary Greeks that a SYRIZA victory would be tantamount to an exit for the Eurozone, even the the European union itself. 

The talk of Grexit cultivated by the Samaras and echoed by pro-government TV stations and newspapers has spooked markets and led to a number of European officials to back track and say that such a contingency is out of the question. However, such denials did not stop prime minister repeating such threats in his speech on Tuesday in the northern city of Komotini, though latest news reports seem to indicate that the party's campaign will change direction and now focus on the government's track record in power.

As part of this change in tack it seems Samaras is willing to use the even more incendiary topic of immigration, even the tragic deaths of the 12 people killed in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris on Wednesday were used by him in order to attack SYRIZA's immigration policies. In his speech in Halkidi he said, 

"There was a massacre today in Paris yet some people want to invite more illegal immigrants and hand out citizenship"

This campaign promises to be the dirtiest in years, and as if to underline the point the prime minister and other senior New Democracy figures were eagerly using the deaths of the victims in Paris to drum up votes for their party which has consistently been behind the polls over the last few weeks. Whilst some surveys have put SYRIZA anything up to 7.5% ahead, most seem to agree on a 3-4% lead for Alexis Tsipras's Radical Left party, despite the fact that they are facing an almost uniformly hostile mainstream media inside Greece and to a large degree abroad.

If such figures prove accurate this mean that SYRIZA will be unlikely to elect the 151 MPs required to have a majority government in Greece's 300 seat parliament and so will probably need to form a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties vying for power. This is where the waters muddy and accurate predictions of what will happen on election day and afterwards become less certain. All the other parties who could be in parliament are polling between 6 and 2% which given the margin of error present in such cases means any meaningful estimation of how seats will be distributed is difficult.

However, some guesses can be made. It would seem sure that KKE (Greek Communist Party) will once again get 4-6% and so about 12 seats as it did in 2012. Whilst KKE has not been able to exploit the economic crisis in order to widen its base, it's party organisation and strong campaigning abilities mean that the party faithful will turn out and support them. Likewise Golden Dawn's support in the polls has remain steady at 5-6% despite the jailing of most of it leadership on criminal charges pending trial. Despite almost singularly negative press coverage there remains a hardcore of voters who are willing to vote for them, no mater what.

On the other the once might PASOK party was in the throes of a major meltdown, even before the announcement of Papandreou's new party which is likely to drain what is left of its popular support among older voters. Latest polls show PASOK at between 3 and 5% and the Movement of Democratic Socialists at 2-3%, though there is a possibility that neither will break the 3% barrier needed to gain a seat in parliament. The situation is not helped by high level defections from PASOK to other parties. Today, PASOK cabinet minister Angela Gerekou announced she would be standing on a New Democracy ticket in the next elections.

The other major unknown is the amount of success the Potami (River) party will enjoy,set up last year by a former TV presenter with the oligarch owned MEGA TV station, Potami has been built up as a centre - left alternative to SYRIZA for those unhappy with PASOK's record in power. Currently, it is polling 5-7% and seems on track to be the third largest party.

Other parties such as the far light LAOS and the centre left Democratic Left party who once were government coalition partners have paid the price for pushing through deeply unpopular austerity measures and seem unlikely to win even one seat in parliament. Even the Independent Greeks party once seen as a viable centre right alternative to New Democracy is struggling to reach 3%

(It should be noted though that Greece's pollsters have proven notorious political in the results over the last few elections and so any results should be taken with a pinch of salt, and the political affiliations of the news outlets that commission them should be taken into account).

Whatever the final outcome, it seems SYRIZA may need allies, but this is where things get complicated. A first glance the most obvious coalition partner would seem to be KKE but this is extremely unlikely given the deep ideological gulf that divides them. The insistence of KKE's party leadership on maintaining ideological purity in the face of siren calls of power is unlikely to disappear soon.

A partnership with either a rump PASOK or Potami also is not without risks and threatens to split SYRIZA which till very recently was a loose coalition of leftist parties, many of who are far to the left of the Tsipras leadership and would view such allies with the deep suspicion, seeing them as the agents of the establishment seeking to worm their way back into positions of power and responsibility. 

Finally, there is a possibility that no government may be formed and so Greece may have to go to the polls again. Such a move would definitely make the nation's creditors deeply uneasy as it would raise the spectre of default over debt repayments due in 2015. 

No comments: