In last Sunday’s elections, Greece’s major social-democratic party PASOK has been returned to power, while the governing New Democracy, the traditional right wing party, suffered its worst ever defeat in its 25-year history. PASOK leader George Papandreou, son of Andreas Papandreou, becomes Prime Minister, while Kostantin Karamanlis, only two years since his re-lection, is dealt a devastating blow – he has immediately resigned from the leadership of his Party.
The Left comes out with a slightly reduced parliamentary power, as the two main left – wing organisations, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and SIRIZA lose about half a percentage point each, compared to their 2007 results. On the contrary, the more right-wing LAOS registers a very significant increase in its power, gathering a substantial part of the disaffected ND voters. The Ecology Party, despite its recent success in the Euro elections, not having reached the legally necessary national quota of 3% does not enter parliament.
There are two striking elements of last Sunday’s election:
- The unexpected slump of New Democracy whose popular support of 33.5% is the lowest ever in the Party’s 25 year history. Kostantin Karamanlis, Greece’s Prime Minister till Saturday, immediately accepted full personal responsibility and resigned from the leadership of his Party, calling for an Extraordinary Congress in 4 weeks’ time.
- The totally unexpected increase in the voting power of PASOK, only two years after its electoral defeat in the last elections. This is one of the most striking victories of Greek social democracy, akin to the historic victories of Andreas Papandreou in 1981 and 1993. PASOK managed to get its highest ever percentages in a number of rural constituencies, despite many pre-election polls indicating that the two main parties were very close.
George Papandreou becomes Prime Minister in his fifth year of leading PASOK and following two consecutive electoral defeats. It is, however, the extent of the social democratic victory that gives him a clear parliamentary majority which will allow him and his party to govern unencumbered without the stress, worry and give-and-take that would have followed if he had to rely on other more-to-the left parliamentary organisations for his governance.
PASOK’s pre-election manifesto focussed on five major political issues and the party is expected to table immediate and specific legal proposals in the new parliament:
- A new electoral law increasing the proportionality of the system and incorporating strict provisions for expenditure and transparency of elected officials,.
- A new law supporting the real income of citizens,
- A new law protecting mortgages and establishing anti-inflationary provisions,
- Incorporating legal provisions for State support of middle-scale enterprises and the real economy, and,
- Supporting enterprise and defence of workers rights.
The Party is also expected to reduce the number of Ministries down to 14 and cap the number of ministerial portfolios to half the previous size. Papandreou also mentioned yesterday that half of his ministerial team would be made of women.
The Election Results and Their Effect on the Left
The two-Party system that ruled over Greek politics since WWII saw its electoral strength reduced somewhat, compared to the 2007 elections. It is significant, however, that this reduction did not directly benefit the two left organisations. It was the right party of LAOS that primarily benefited from the drift of New Democracy voters. Let us focus briefly on the situation that pertains to the parties of the Left:
- The Greek Communist Party (KKE) sees its electoral strength losing ground, albeit slightly, for the first time in recent years. The Party had increased its percentages both in the 2000 and 2007 elections as well as the Euro elections last June.
- Percentages of SIRIZA, an alliance of left-wing and progressive organisations, have also registered a slight drop. The Party, however, analysed last Sunday’s results almost as if was a victory, as pre-election polls indicated that it may not reach the 3% minimum and be excluded from parliament
- Finally, the Ecology Party came very close, reaching almost the 3% minimum, having led a very active and popular campaign
Let me conclude this article with a personal thought. There is no question in my mind that the results of the election show that Greece’s forgotten and marginalized sections of its people were instrumental in the heavy defeat of the governing New Democracy Party. The big loser in this election was the neo-liberal politics of the government that brought about a serious economic crash – a politics that increased poverty, unemployment, insecurity in labour and further extension of social inequalities.
As these lines are being written, there will be a new government in place by tomorrow morning. But for a modern society like Greece, as much as in our land here, the key question is not a change in government and personalities but a change of political direction. To this extent, the situation in Greece opens a new optical angle where European citizens can watch and analyse social democratic politics in power for the first time in a mainstream European country after a long period of monetarist and neo-liberal political dominance.
Greeks in their land and abroad are smiling today. Some may even celebrate. The real issues and struggle, however, will be hard and difficult in the days to come. To follow closely.
Michael Youlton is co-chair of the IAWM and was involved in the say NO to Lisbon Campaign.
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