Later today Greeks are going to the polls to elect their national parliament for the second time in a year, in a climate of frustration, disappointment and uncertainty.
Most pollsters give the two main competitors, ‘newly refurbished’ Syriza, and the veterans of centre-right New Democracy (ND), head to head, within decimals from each other, around 27-31% of total votes. Neither party is projected to win an outright majority to govern, and with these numbers, whoever arrives first and wins the majority prize of 50 additional seats would need minor parties to govern. In January, Syriza won the election with a significant advantage of more than 8% of votes over ND, but established a government with the Independent Greeks to ensure a majority in parliament.
Tsipras’ campaign message has been centred around the difference of going through the 3rd bailout programme with a left government with fresh faces, vs ending up with the old ‘corrupt’ parties in power like ND. Tsipras has also been adamant that a coalition with ND is to be excluded in any event, while let out hints that he might ally with Pasok and/or To Potami, if Syriza won’t be able to secure an outright majority.
Meimarakis, new leader of ND and Minister of Defence from 2006 to 2009, has centred his campaign around the failures of Syriza to deliver anything ‘new’ and the ‘incompetent’ manner in which Syriza brought a disastrous deal home. He try to project himself as a sober and competent ‘father of the nation’ asking for Greeks to converge back on ND after their indulgence in supporting an ineffective radical left government. That analysts and observers in Greece could even talk of a ‘resurgence’ of New Democracy after the clear defeat of January probably says more about the disappointment with Tsipras’ several U-turns than Meimarakis’ questionable skill.
We will only know on Monday whether we are witnessing a come-back of New Democracy or if the opinion polls are reflecting more the wishes of media oligarchs in bed with the creditors than the reality on the ground. Beyond the key issue of the distance between Syriza and ND, is it possible that perhaps both Syriza and New Democracy percentages have been adjusted upwards to cover up mounting discontent against the third bailout programme? Pollsters have spectacularly failed in the Greek referendum on the bailout in July, but many of them also significantly underestimated Syriza in the weeks before the January election. There is widespread speculation that polls are frequently “fudged”, and there is no doubt that the stakes in the struggle between technocracy and anti-austerity movements in Greece and Europe remain high.
Other important trends to watch out for are:
– How well the neo-nazis of Golden Dawn (GD) will fare; most polls place them steadily in third position, behind Syriza and ND, with 6 to 7%. Has GD performance been underplayed? Will they end up with double digits, as some supporters suggest? One poll from the independent online media platform The Press Project indicates that 1 out of 5 respondents who intend to vote GD, had voted Syriza in January. The increase in number of refugees arriving in Greece, coupled with anti-European sentiments fuelled by the frustrations over the capitulation to creditors, seem to have galvanised GD supporters, whose leaders are facing trial for several murders and other crimes.
– The struggle within the anti-bailout left front has seen over the weeks growing numbers in favour of the communists of the KKE, with a declining trend for Popular Unity – the new party led by the Left Platform group which left Syriza in protest against Tsipras’ support of the bailout. KKE has maintained a solid position, with around 5-6% in most polls, confirming their performance in January. Popular Unity are projected to get around 3-4% (in some polls they go below the required 3% to get into parliament). Is there an interest in underplaying Popular Unity’s votes given their vocal and sanguine rhetoric against the bailout? Or does the difference between the two formations reflect the fact that KKE’s disengagement from the debates around bailout negotiations is paying off? It is also entirely possible that both formations are underestimated in polls, given their strong anti-bailout stance. It’s worth remembering that despite their strong criticisms of the bailout, KKE has sent clear messages that this is no time for Greece’s exit from the euro. Popular Unity seems to be more vocal about the possibility of Grexit, but they too over the weeks have often softened this position.
– Pro-bailout parties centre-left Pasok (decimated by judiciary scandals) and To Potami (a new pro-troika liberal party full of media personalities) are likely to be decisive in the formation of a coalition government. “Fudged” or not, To Potami seems to be projected around the same percentages achieved in January (between 4 and 6% in recent polls), with a declining trend over the campaign period. Pasok has been boosted in last week’s polls (projected around 5-6% of votes in most polls), but it’s difficult to say whether that reflects potential former Pasok voters who supported Syriza in January who are now going back to their ‘home’, or Pasok’s considerable influence over the media establishment. The right-wing nationalist party of the Independent Greeks are often weighted below the 3% required to enter parliament, or just around it. Their far-right rhetoric has been considerably weakened by their involvement in the previous government. They are the only force clearly indicated by Tsipras as possible allies in the next government.
– Outsider populist Centrists Union led by outspoken leader Leventis are surprisingly indicated around 4% in most polls, meaning that after running for several general elections, they might make it into parliament for the first time. The fact that a party often described as a ‘joke’ can receive such attention from pollsters is another sign of the general chaos and uncertainty marking the latest development in the Greek political arena.
– Last but not least, voter turnout will be one of the most significant indicators of the state of Greek politics. A lacklustre electoral campaign conducted in a climate marked by disappointment and betrayed expectations might lead to large numbers of people choosing to stay home rather than “wasting” their ballot again. The extent of this will likely influence how much legitimacy the next government will have, and signal how deep the crisis of representative democracy is. The number of undecided voters in recent opinion polls remained high, in some cases well above 10%. It is unlikely that these numbers are anywhere close to capturing the real turnout. In January, 64% of voters cast their ballot, and it would be surprising if turnout this time will be the same or higher.
Despite all the promises and assurances Greeks have heard in these weeks, it seems unlikely that the next government (probably a coalition one) will be able to pursue any significant autonomous political agenda beyond the harsh measures imposed by the 3rd bailout. Whether the numbers will allow for a stable government is all to be seen. Without noticing the irony, a couple of weeks ago Greek President Pavlopoulos said that he won’t allow another election until 2016.