Snap elections called: A primer on the parties
After months of speculation and political calculus, Greece will have its general election on October 4.
Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis – of reigning but faltering New Democracy -announced the snap polls in a nationwide television address 8pm Wednesday night.
PASOK rejoiced at the news. The opposition has held a slim but clear lead in the polls throughout 2009. This could be the moment George Papandreou truly assumes the mantle of his father, Andreas. His party had already announced a 35th anniversary celebration for tonight in Thissio via Twitter.
If this June’s Europarliament elections were any indication ND and Pasok are not the only players in these polls. Stalwart KKE, upstart Laos and sputtering Syriza may all complicate the parliamentary map.
Here’s a look at each major party (and their web offerings) a month before the polls.
New Democracy has run up quite the rap sheet since its sweeping electoral victory this time two years ago.
Lethal fires in 2007; environmentally devastating blazes last month; the Vatopedi monastery land swipe debacle; the Zahopoulos sex tape scandal and botched suicide; massive riots after the police-killing of a teenager that has re-invigorated domestic terrorism to name a few blemishes.
If that wasn’t enough, ND also ran into the buzzsaw of a global economic downturn that has dented Greece’s flagship enterprises; tourism industry and shipping. PM Karamanlis argued in his address last night (now posted on ND’s Blog and Twitter) that the government’s “conservative” approach spared the country from the damage suffered by other European countries. That might be true in practice, but
ND has been trying to liberalize Greece’s economy in many of the ways that backfired elsewhere. Karamanlis hailed Greece’s recent growth rates and relatively low unemployment rate (about 10%) but made no reference to under-employment, i.e. the many well-educated Greeks working below their skill levels.
Karamanlis said he trusted the polls to the “mature” Greek people. But they’re a gamble. Although ND has 350 members in a 300-seat parliament -the most fragile and unworkable of majorities – there are still two years left in his term and his party just took a major black eye from the fires. Political analysts quoted by the Guardian called the move “political suicide.”
In other words, Karamanlis may well have persuaded people elections are essential. But they are likely to decide it’s neccessary to oust ND.
Pasok has possessed a safe, if slim, place atop the polls since the December Riots. It took a great deal of time to get there considering ND’s floundering for the previous 12 months. Papandreou’s party has already begun the celebration but being more popular than ND isn’t exactly being popular.
Take the Europarliament results for example. Pasok did indeed eek out a victory over ND. But the margin was 220,000 votes, i.e. a small plurality, and Pasok received the same amount of seats (8, Pasok gained no seats while ND lost 3) as ND.
The bigger story was how many people stayed home or voted blank in a country where voting is supposed to be compulsory.
The tactics employed by Pasok indicate how much the party has craved taking advantage of its poll position to take back the government. Pasok has made it clear it would oppose the re-election of President Karolos Papoulias (it takes a 3/5 majority of parliament) in order to force elections. That’s despite the fact that Papoulias is a former Pasok foreign minister.
Based on the polls, a Pasok victory does seem likely. But it’s possible there will not be enough of a majority to form a government or to be considered a healthy mandate.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga might have opposed Pericles she has been on the Greek political scene so long. Born just after the end of WWII, she joined the communist party during the right-wing Junta and was elected party leader in 1991.
She’s still there and so is KKE at no. 3 in the polls.
Greece’s communist party has made a name for itself via frequent strikes and demonstrations. The image of Papariga speaking before a throng of red banners is at once iconic and ubiquitous.
The feeling that institutionalized far-left tactics have failed to shake up the political scene may well have contributed to the frustration feeding the December Riots. In other words, KKE is as much a part of the system as any of the other parties.
Papariga told the Athens News Agency that the snap elections are the parties serving themselves again:
The country’s plutocracy, the businesspeople and, of course, both their parties, New Democracy and Pasok, are aiming from these elections, each for itself, the emergence of a strong government, a government capable of providing a breakthrough, not for the people, but for the unimpeded profit-making of capital. A government capable of taking new, more barbaric, more savage measures against the working people, at the expense of working people.
The Greek Europarliament elections seem to bear out that people are as frustrated with KKE as they are with the other parties. KKE maintained its 3rd place position, but lost 1 seat and about 100,000 votes from 2004.
Still, ask a migrant who they feel stands up for them, and they’ll likely see KKE as the People’s Champ. Thing is, migrants don’t get to vote.
KKE and Papariga have blasted the government response to the Attica Fires. But Greeks, perennially discontent, have yet to trust the communist party with a substantial share of governance.
Besides its website KKE can be followed on Facebook.
The New (Old) Kid
The party’s title and its motto, For Greece by the Greeks, would seem to say it all: a right-wing, religious based party with shades of the junta.
The party’s leader, George Karantzaferis, has tried to position Laos as a kind of non-communist KKE, i.e. a party people can trust to represent their interests unfulfilled by Pasok and ND that’s not extreme or on the fringe. Comments made by the former journalist and ND MP have been branded far-right, chauvinist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-semitic.
Well, based on the polls, he knows his audience.
Laos has risen from the obscurity of its founding in 2000 to a solid fourth place. The party doubled its europarliament seats (from 1 to 2) and was less than 100,000 votes behind third-place KKE. It made the largest poll improvement of any Greek party and likely contributed to ND’s abysmal showing (in addition to Pasok’s rise and low turnout).
A sea change launching LAOS to power is unlikely (though there is a month to go). A coalition between ND and Laos could save the incumbents but the wounds between the two sides run deep (Karantzaferis formed LAOS after he was expelled from ND) and LAOS has shown no interest in risking its rise by affiliating with the unpopular ruling party.
Karantzaferis wasn’t exactly collegial toward ND in a statement to Athens News Agency.
In a difficult situation the prime minister chose to escape. Fortunately, for the party and the country, reserves exist.
Laos can be followed on Twitter.
With ND sinking and people largely unimpressed by Pasok, Syriza was supposed to put together a strong showing in the Europarliament elections.
Instead, Syriza garnered just a handful of new votes, fell behind Laos and likely lost key environmental (and fed-up) voters to the insurgent EcoGreens. No new seats.
It was a missed opportunity after a revitalized coalition (there are over 10 member parties, the largest of which is Syaspismos) shocked the 2007 Greek legislative election by taking over 5% of the vote (largely away from Pasok).
Syriza is holding an event on Saturday to kickstart its election drive. Leader Alex Tsipras has said a liberal program of social protection is the only course of action. A strong showing could undercut Pasok. A weak one with low turnout could neutralize the coalition or perhaps even knock it off the parliamentary map.
Syriza’s activities can be followed on the coalition’s Twitter page.
The success of the Ecologists Greens (EcoGreens) was the biggest surprise of the Europarliament elections. After the fires that scorched Attica, they may be in position for even bigger gains.
As the name suggests, the party is focused on environmental issues and “green politics”.
The party, founded in 2002, has no representation in the Greek parliament yet managed to win a seat in the 2009 Europarliament elections with 3.49% of the vote.
The party’s platform as described on its website:
Their Founding Declaration defines their approach to ecology as: creative, radical, politically independent, tolerant, internationalist and pacifist;movement-orientated, community-based, participatory, feminist, solidarity, anti-consumerist; anti-authoritarian and alternative.
A repeat performance would give the greens parliamentary representation.
The EcoGreens can be followed via twitter.