Greek Elections Update: A Small Step for SYRIZA, a Medium Step for Golden Dawn

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The first round of the Greek municipal and regional elections is over. The results, while indecisive, present a number interesting aspects, which give some idea about what may be expected in the second round as well in the European Parliament elections next Sunday. We shall summarize and comment them here.

First of all, abstention was quite high, though not higher than that in the previous, 2010 municipal and regional elections. It ranged between 53% in the city of Athens (it was 57% in 2010) to 35% in smaller provincial cities. This fact shows that the crisis of the political system still continues, without however SYRIZA or any other party clearly benefiting from it.

There was an interesting incident with the exit polls at 7 p.m. Sunday afternoon showing that SYRIZA was heading for a spectacular win in the biggest municipality and district, respectively Athens and Attica. They forecasted a win for Dourou, SYRIZA’s candidate for the Attica district, with a margin of 6-7% against the center-left “independent” Sgouros, and also a small precedence of Sakellaridis, SYRIZA’s candidate in Athens, against the equally “independent” center-left Kaminis. This created euphoria in SYRIZA with its leader, Alexis Tsipras, making some enthusiastic comments. However, these forecasts, which would indeed mean not only an overturn of all polls, but also a triumph for SYRIZA in the decisive battles, failed to materialize. As results began to roll in, it became clear that Dourou’s margin was much lower, of the order of 2%, while Sakellaridis was second after Kaminis, even if marginally. Still, the final result was a very descent one for Dourou and Sakellaridis. Meanwhile, it turned out the neonazi Golden Dawn scored better than in forecasts, achieving two quite positive results: 16,12% 1 of the well known Kasidiaris in Athens and 11,11% of Panagiotaros in Attica district. Both in Athens and Attica the ruling party’s ND candidates failed to make it to the second round.

Had the picture in the rest of Greece been the same, with regard to SYRIZA and ND, than even that result would be a clear victory for SYRIZA. However, this was not the case. In most districts and in the other big municipalities (Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Patra) SYRIZA’s candidates scored well below that, roughly at 15%. The governmental district candidates, on the other hand, apart from the disastrous Attica result (where the ND candidate, Koumoutsakos, took just 14.13%) averaged somewhere between 25-30% (or even more in some cases).

Before proceeding to a more analytical commentary for each party, let us give first the two main results, of Athens municipality and Attica district:

Attica

Dourou (SYRIZA) 23.79%

Sgouros (“independent”, former PASOK-DIMAR) 22.11%

Koumoutsakos (ND) 14.13%

Panagiotaros (Golden Dawn) 11.11%

Pafilis (KKE) 10.65%

Haikalis (ANEL) 7.15%

Tzimeros (Bridges) 2.98%

Koutsoumpa (ANTARSYA) 2.09%

Giannakaki (DIMAR) 1.76%

Athens

Kaminis (“independent”, former PASOK-DIMAR) 21.06%

Sakellaridis (SYRIZA) 20.00%

Spiliotopoulos (ND) 16.92%

Kasidiaris (Golden Dawn) 16.12%

Sofianos (KKE) 7.41%

Kaklamanis (“independent”, coming from ND) 7.10%

Kapernaros (a Right candidate with ANEL) 3.56%

Konstantinou (ANTARSYA) 1.97%

Looking at the results as a whole SYRIZA can claim only a partial victory, if it can claim one. Clearly both Dourou and Sakellaridis went better than expected: almost all polls until the end gave Dourou second place behind Sgouros, while Sakellaridis was expected to be third, behind Spiliotopoulos and well behind Kaminis. Both SYRIZA’s candidates, it seems, developed a strong dynamic during the last week.

However, even Dourou’s and Sakellaridis’s results are well below those SYRIZA had achieved in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Other SYRIZA candidates went worse. In  Piraus, Dritsas scored 17.09% coming third? in Patra Spartinos with 15.41% also came third? Mitafidis in Thessaloniki was also third with 10.54%, that being SYRIZA’s worst result.

There is a number of excuses offered? namely that SYRIZA has not yet established bonds with the local societies matching its general electoral result of June 2012 (its results in 2010 municipal and district elections were indeed very law); it’s local government cadres are rather inexperienced etc. All these may have some truth behind, but there are also political reasons for SYRIZA’s unimpressive result, to which we will return later.

ND, the chief party of the government coalition, certainly cannot claim a victory, but cannot also be reasonably said to have been defeated. Clearly, their performance in Attica, a huge district with more than one million voters, was freaky, their candidate Koumoutsakos taking just 14.13% and in central Makedonia too, the second bigger district, their candidate Ioannidis (a well known former basket coach) scored only a poor 18.6%. Spiliotopoulos’s failure to pass to the second round in Athens was a great setback too. However, ND did surprisingly well in smaller provincial districts, with their candidates scoring around 30% and coming first in many of them. ND saw its candidates advance to the second round in 12 out of 13 districts and they are likely to win most of them, as compared with 5 SYRIZA’s candidates (of which only two have reasonable chances to win, the main one being Dourou) and 8 or 9 of the PASOK would be “independents”.

Elia, the PASOK successor, also did somewhat better than expected, especially in the districts. This gave a chance to its leader, Venizelos, to appear relaxed and smiling after long time in a media interview, claiming a percentage around 12% for his party. He hastened to add, of course, that Elia’s candidates are not strictly party candidates.

However, these successes are to be explained by the fact that Elia’s candidates were already prefects in these districts, having been elected in 2010. Their voting is largely due to local connections they had built in the meantime, and not by the people voting for Elia or PASOK. It is clear therefore that Elia will still face a difficult task in the coming European elections, although its performance might turn out a little better than the one expected until now.

While Elia has gained perhaps a small breath, things look truly gloomy for DIMAR of Fotis Kouvelis. Its candidate in Attica, Yiannakaki, a prominent party cadre, took last place with a meager 1.76%, making it seem almost unlikely for DIMAR to secure a MEP.

Golden Dawn scored two sensational results, in Athens and Attica. This is a serious cause of alarm for all genuinely democratic and anti-Nazi people in Greece. It will surely give them some momentum in the coming European elections too, as well as a possibility to claim a victory as having withstood prosecutions and take poses of heroes, etc.

However, a more detailed analysis will show that Golden Dawn’s rise, threatening as it is, is not as spectacular as these two results would seem to indicate. In the rest of the country they fluctuated around or below their percentages of the 2012 parliamentary elections, next best one being that of Chrysomallis in Central Makedonia, with 8.73%. It should be also noted that before the legal procedures started, some polls were giving Golden Dawn 15% on a country level and foresaw a lead for Kasidiaris in Athens. This means that the rise of the neo-Nazis has partly been arrested, a fact largely due to the anti-Nazi mobilizations that developed during the last year in Greece.

It is highly unclear what the Golden Dawn percentage in the EU elections will be. We may note however that if they stay stuck to or finish a little above their 2012 result it will be a win for the movement, taking in mind the favorable to fascism social conditions that prevail in Greece.

KKE can also claim a partial if unimpressive success, recovering a part of the following it had lost in the 2012 June elections and approaching its result of the May 2012 ones. Clearly, the results of its candidates in the big cities were poor: 7.41% of Sofianos in Athens (compared with 13.74 of the same candidate in 2010); 6.69% by Pantelaki in Pireaus (compared with 14.77 of the same candidate in 2010); 6.23% of Delis in Thessaloniki (compared with 9.50% of another candidate in 2010). There was a notable exception in Patra however, with the KKE candidate, Peletidis, coming first with 25.06%. Also, Pafilis, the KKE candidate in Attica district, took a descent 10.65% (although much less than the 14.44% he scored in 2010).

KKE claims to have scored 9% on the overall country’s result. However, even this is true, it can prove an illusory gain, since KKE always had a higher percentage in the municipal and district elections than in the parliamentary ones.

Needless to say, the KKE leadership has already called its voters to abstain in the second round and condemn equally all other candidates, including Sakellaridis and Dourou, accept for the party ones. This is a disgraceful decision, faithful to its Stalinist positions.

ANEL received a descent 7.16% with Haikalis (an actor and media personality) in Attica, but nothing else.

Ecologists Greens scored around 1.5-3.0% in the big cities, quite below their 2010 results.

ANTARSYA, the anticapitalist left formation, had some poor results too, justifying those who consider the failure to cooperate with Alavanos a serious mistake. With Konstantinou, its Athens candidate taking just 1.97% (as compared with 2.78% in 2010), its other candidates in Thessaloniki, Piraeus and Patra scoring between 0.93%-2.12% and their districts candidates around 1.5-2.5%, clearly it cannot boast of any encouraging step. It went somewhat better in some popular neighborhoods of Athens, taking around 4-5%.

Finally, there was an extremely negative phenomenon, which was foreshadowed in some of the polls, but not to the extent it actually appeared – the high percentages achieved by some representatives of the business and media system, who took part in the municipal elections. In Piraeus, Yiannis Moralis, a collaborator of Marinakis, shipowner and high chief of Olympiakos team, came first with 33.26%, as compared with 31.32% of Vasilis Michaloliakos, backed by ND. In Volos, a city in Thessalia, Achilleas Beos, the strongman of Olympiakos Volou football team, who was brought to court for match-fixing, secured an impressive 38.3% in the first round. Ilias Psinakis, a media man and manager, was elected from the first Monday in Marathon, Attica, as was the case with Apostolos Gletsos, an actor and media man in Stylida, a small city near Lamia. Gletsos, who had flirted with KKE before 2010, even announced that he will create a party after his election with 68%.

For Greece, the direct participation of businessmen in elections is something new, and a strongly reactionary development. Moralis is said to have connections with some ultra-right elements, while Psinakis was proposed as a candidate for the ultra-right LAOS some years ago. Moreover, all of them employed some kind of ultra-right populism, promising to pour money to their cities, alleviating the sufferings of the people. Gletsos, talking after his victory, said that the essential thing now is to make the rich feel secure in order to bring their money back to Greece, so that everyone will benefit. As for Beos, he presented himself as “new” and “untarnished”, characterizing as “hogwash” any talk of political culture. He also promised that he will strike the “knife of the corrupt political system” with his fist, and that while his fist will bleed, the knife will eventually break.

These being the main facts, what are the trends to be discerned behind them in the social and political scene? Although the situation remains very fluid, we think that the election results point to some tendencies, which will become clearer in EU elections.

A first feature of the results is an emerging tendency towards a multipolar political system. After 1981 and until 2012 there was a bipolar PASOK-ND party system, this being replaced by a bipolar ND-SYRIZA system in the June 2012 elections, though qualitatively different and not as powerful as the former one. May 2012 elections on the other hand were more multipolar, the electorate being divided between the various parties, with none of them attaining a decisive preponderance. The present picture shows something intermediate, with ND and SYRIZA being the two basic poles, but with some minor poles, Elia, Golden Dawn, KKE and, at least for this election, Potami, being stabilized. On the other hand, other small intermediate parties like DIMAR and ANEL seem to fare badly, which is also the case with tinier parties with no specific audience.

All this has to do with the fact that the bonds of most people with the parties they support have weakened as a result of the crisis, their distrust has grown, etc., so that it is more difficult to direct them towards any predetermined direction, despite the fact that the crisis pushes to a clearing. Of course, given this distrust, the crystallization observed is quite uncertain and will definitely be reshaped in the next encounters. SYRIZA may have failed to make these elections a referendum centered on the Memorandums question, as it successfully did in 2012, but only the next parliamentary elections will show how much this kind of dilemma can still work. However, since it cannot work to the same extent as in 2012, some changes in SYRIZA’s strategy may be needed if it is going to be effective.

A second feature is the tendency towards a right and conservative turn, rather than a left and radical one, of the electorate. The relative stability shown by ND and PASOK is only a part of it, perhaps the minor one. Another more serious aspect is the retreat of SYRIZA in the popular suburbs of Athens and in Attica cities with big unemployment, where SYRIZA saw its percentages fall roughly by 10% compared with the 2012 ones. Panagiotaros, the Golden Dawn candidate, had some very good results in attracting the underprivileged strata in these areas. Of course, this turn towards the Right does not imply that SYRIZA was too Left, but rather the contrary; that it failed to organize any serious movement to defend the rights of the jobless. Golden Dawn, on the other hand, was based on the money generously offered to them by their capitalist funders. Finally, the success of populist businessmen like Beos and Moralis is a third aspect of the tendency to the Right.

However, all these tendencies are far from being definitive. SYRIZA showed a real dynamic during the last week in Athens and Attica, which, if strengthened and extended to the rest of the country during this week, may well change the picture to the better for the Left. There is also some hope that a number of left voters who did not appear in the first round ballot, will do so in the second, also improving the prospects for SYRIZA. All this may well happen, yet it is still unlikely that it will be able to reverse completely the conservative trend – it will more or less curtail it. It should be noted by the way that there were signs of radical movement in this first round too, especially in areas where some strong movements and struggles had developed in the preceding period. One such example was the defeat of Pachtas, the mayor of Ierissos, Chalkidiki, a strong supporter of the gold mines project that would destroy this beautiful area. Another one was the informal referendum conducted in Thessaloniki, where 218.002 people voted on the privatization of water with 98.04% saying no!

The outcome of the second round of the municipal and regional elections cannot be anticipated. Electing both Dourou and Sakellaridis will be a clear victory for SYRIZA. However, ND has already declared its support for their opponents, Kaminis and Sgouros, in the hope of preventing this. In this situation, much will depend on the stance of the KKE voters as well as the voters of other smaller parties. Clearly, the decision of the KKE leadership to call for abstention is criminally faulty and it is imperative that the KKE voters disobey it. It should be clear that the election of Dourou and Sakelaridis, as well as of the SYRIZA candidate facing Beos at Volos in the second round, will be an important step forward. KKE leadership, by denying that, plays in fact the game of the government. As things stand now, Dourou’s prospects seem a bit better than those of Sakellaridis, with both contests being very difficult.

But the real political message will surely come from the results of the EU elections. The prospect of a big SYRIZA win has become somewhat more remote after the 18th May elections, but a descent SYRIZA win remains quite possible. If this is the case, then the prospect of a left government in Greece will remain open.

Christos Kefalis is a chemist, writer and member of the editorial board of the Greek journal Marxist Thought.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis May 18, 2014.

Notes:

  1. Results given here and in the rest of the article refer in some cases to about 98-99% of the ballots cast, so they may change a bit when 100% is included.