By Roman Gerodimos, Principal Lecturer in Global Current Affairs and Founder & Convenor of the Greek Politics Specialist Group (www.gpsg.org.uk)
The results of last Sunday’s election in Greece constitute a big victory for Alexis Tsipras, for Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) and for the anti-austerity camp as a whole. The fact that a coalition government has been formed by two parties - Syriza and Panos Kammenos’ far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) party - which have consistently opposed the bailout agreements with Greece’s lenders depressurizes the political climate in the country. The election result per se vents a lot of the anger and frustration felt by a significant part of the Greek society over the last few years.
The support of Independent Greeks will initially provide Tsipras with the parliamentary and political backing for a tough stance during the negotiations with the Troika of lenders (International Monetary Fund, European Commission, European Central Bank). However, it is very difficult to see how such a heterogeneous coalition would survive beyond the short term. Panos Kammenos' party has a track record of xenophobic, homophobic and anti-immigrant policies, whereas, for example, Syriza has traditionally supported a separation of Church and State, civil partnerships for same-sex couples and giving second generation migrants Greek citizenship.
Furthermore, there are many within Syriza - and in particular some leftist factions - that will be very uncomfortable indeed supporting a government that includes Kammenos. Syriza itself is a very heterogeneous coalition of leftist groups and former supporters of centre-left PASOK united under Tsipras’ leadership and populist charisma, so unless there is a major success on the debt negotiations front, Tsipras will find it increasingly hard to keep this coalition together after the so-called 'honeymoon period'.
Beyond Greece, Syriza’s win may encourage other populist parties across the EU to pursue an agenda of radical change to the current status quo. Tsipras has built a profile not just as a national leader but as a leader of the radical left across Europe and his success will be seen as a watershed moment for anti-establishment parties. The radical left/far right coalition in Greece shows that, at the moment, the traditional ideological division between left and right is far less salient than the pro-EU/anti-austerity cleavage that emerged during the last few years across Europe. Despite the huge differences in style and substance, anti-systemic parties in Britain (UKIP), France (Front National), Spain (Podemos), Italy (Five Star Movement), Germany (AfD) will be welcoming Syriza’s win as a sign of public disaffection with the dominant governance model of the European Union. Having said that, if one looks beyond their opposition to the current paradigm, it is quite clear that their visions for ‘the day after’ are wildly different and, predictably, oriented towards the national interest and domestic agendas, as opposed to the EU as a whole.
What is less clear is the impact that Syriza’s victory will have on the stance of the major players in the negotiations on Greece’s debt, such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the German government. Some expect Tsipras to quickly water down his pre-election pledges and take a much more moderate and constructive stance, possibly making concessions and coming up with an arrangement that is not radically different from what we have today. In fact, this narrative of moderation prevailed during the campaign and many Syriza voters do not really expect, or even wish for, Tsipras to walk out of the talks and take Greece on a different path.
Others think that Tsipras will in fact stick to his hardline approach and that negotiation with lenders will be long and genuinely difficult. Time will tell, but the fact that he has chosen to form a government with Independent Greeks – when he could have chosen to strike a deal with the much more moderate and pro-EU The River (To Potami), which came fourth in the elections – means that, at least for the time being, he is planning to stick to his hardline anti-austerity pledges. This is also confirmed by the make-up of his Cabinet and by his public appearances after the results were announced.
Finally, the election consolidates the realignment of the Greek party system which started in May 2012 with the collapse of PASOK – one of the two pillars of the political system since the restoration of democracy in 1974 – which led to a weaker two-party system led by Syriza and centre-right New Democracy. The political centre is now fragmented for good: PASOK saw its share of the vote further collapse to 4.68% (a third of its 2012 share, which itself was almost a quarter of its 2009 share) and former Prime Minister Papandreou’s newly formed KIDISO didn’t manage to reach the 3% threshold to enter Parliament. The River, which mobilized a number of centre-left and liberal reformists, now leads in that crucial political space but the truth is that the centrist parties are not really in the driver’s seat. Perhaps ironically, their future, as well as that of Antonis Samaras who lost the election but did not resign as leader of New Democracy, will depend on Alexis Tsipras and the extent to which he manages to make good on his promises.
Roman tweets @gr_roman
This article was orginally published on the Poltical Studies Association website.