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Golden Dawn, SYRIZA or a pro-Memorandum party?

 Who will Greek voters choose in Sunday’s winner-takes-all election?

By Daphne Halikiopoulou

The May 6th election produced what is perhaps the most unstable and volatile result in Greece since the 1950’s. Reflecting the emergence of a new societal cleavage, one between those who support and those who oppose the Memorandum of Understanding, it signalled the crumbling of the two party system that has dominated Greek politics since the restoration of democracy in 1974 and a significant rise of both the far right and the far left. Most importantly it was unable to produce a government, revealing the unwillingness and inability of Greek parties to cooperate and communicate with each other.

This Sunday, June 17th, Greece goes to the polls again.  The upcoming election promises to be equally volatile; this time at stake are Greece’s place in the euro and the European Union.

The electoral result of May 6th should be understood as reflecting an emerging and deepening cleavage between pro and anti- Memorandum of Understanding forces. Support for pro-Memorandum forces, i.e. the mainstream ND and PASOK, declined dramatically. Both parties, which in the past together occupied 80 and over percent of the parliamentary seats, received a record low vote.  New Democracy came first, with as low as 18.85%, while PASOK gained 13.18% receiving 41 parliamentary seats,  120 fewer than it had received in  2009. Small liberal pro-bailout parties such as the Drasi and Democratic Alliance also did poorly, not even making the 3% threshold for entering parliament.

On other hand, anti-Memorandum of Understanding forces rose dramatically. This includes both the far right and far left.  The Far Right Independent Greeks, an offshoot of mainstream New Democracy, led by Panos Kammenos gained 10.6% and 33 seats. The extreme right Golden Dawn received a record high 6.9%, gaining 21 seats in a parliament of 300.This is a particularly worrying and interesting phenomenon , especially when contrasted with other cases across Europe.

Marine Le Pen’s Front National as well as other far right parties such as the Dutch Freedom Party and the Swiss SVP that are performing well in their respective domestic electoral arenas, have modernised their parties, adopting a revamped rhetoric targeting the ‘intolerant’. They are anti-immigration and tough on the EU but seek to legitimise their positions by justifying them as seeking to safeguard their nations from extremists who seek to erode the values of liberalism and democracy. As such, some of these parties particularly target Muslim extremism.

The Greek Golden Dawn is different. It is a party with a fascist ideological basis, a militant organisation that espouses Nazism.

The Greek Golden Dawn however is different. It is a party with a fascist ideological basis, a militant organisation that espouses Nazism. It is anti-systemic and anti-democratic.  Its members consider all immigrants as illegal. They seek to halt immigration altogether. They seek to do so through violence. Many have criminal records and/or pending trials. The Golden Dawn’s election in the Greek parliament in a way reflects the classic model that predicts deep economic crises to result in the rise of extremism. In a country that suffered from and fought against Nazism, the results are disturbing.

However, it is too early to draw conclusions. On the one hand, official and unofficial polls are suggesting that support for the Golden Dawn will decrease in the upcoming election of June 17th. To a great extent, this was a protest vote by an angry electorate that has paid the price of austerity. Media exposure, controversies and the association with a number of violent acts may have resulted in their de-legitimation in the eyes of many of their voters. On the other hand, however, many still pledge to vote for the Golden Dawn, interpreting their violence as the ‘only necessary way of dealing with a rotten system’.

The biggest winner of the May 6th election was the populist, far left and anti-Memorandum SYRIZA which came second with 16.78%.  The party’s pledge to cancel the terms and conditions of the memorandum of understanding to a great extent reflects Greek public opinion. Its leader’s unwillingness to form a coalition government also reflects the ‘all or nothing’ nature of Greek politics. SYRIZA has continued to rise in the polls. The battle in the next electoral round will be between them and New Democracy. But the terms of the election itself are slightly different: for many voters in the previous round, anti-Memorandum did not necessarily entail exit from the Euro; they believed its terms and conditions could be renegotiated within the context of the Eurozone. This has now changed, with many voters fully appreciating the gravity of the situation.

Many voters fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.

The main question is now whether to remain in the Eurozone at any cost.  Greece’s future in the EU and the common currency is at stake. And its voters are caught in a fundamental dilemma: should they vote for a pro-European party which nonetheless has a long-standing association with corruption and is largely to blame for the current economic crisis, just to save Greece’s place in the euro? Or should they cast their vote in favour of a smaller, anti-establishment party which, premised on anti-bailout promise, may lead Greece out of the Eurozone? Both are very high prices to pay; and in a ‘winner takes all’ context where-as the previous round showed— each contender refuses to negotiate, the prospect of a compromise is small.

Daphne is LSE Fellow in Comparative Politics in the Government Department of the London School of Economics

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