Step forward in Greece as voters reject austerity

photo by: mkhalili
Athens protest against austerity

By Nicky Dempsey

The outcome of the Greek elections represents a decisive popular break with the politics of austerity. Persistent mass mobilisations over several years since the crisis began have resulted in a crushing defeat for the traditionally dominant parties in Greek politics. Parties who in different ways claimed to be opposed to the terms of the Greek bailout won a majority. After a prolonged period in Europe in which ruling parties carrying out cuts have been dumped at the first electoral opportunity, this is the first time since the crisis began that any country has registered a majority vote for parties against austerity.

The main losers in the election are New Democracy and PASOK, a nominally socialist party. They have dominated Greek politics in the post-military dictatorship settlement since 1974 and would normally expect to garner about eighty per cent of votes between them. In this election they received less than one third of all votes, little more than thirty-two per cent.

Parties rejecting the terms of the bailout, and mainly to the left of PASOK, who all said they were opposed to the terms of the bailout and further cuts in wages and public spending, won forty-two per cent of the vote. This was led by SYRIZA, which registered 16.8%. SYRIZA is itself a coalition of leftist forces, most of whom are within the communist tradition as well as from the ecological movements. The left vote also included the Democratic Left, a split from SYRIZA who obtained just over 6% of the vote and the Greek Communist Party KKE who received 8.5%.

Independent Greeks won nearly eleven per cent of the vote. They are a split from New Democracy and against the terms of the bailout. They oppose the bailout from the right and talk of a ‘national reawakening’.

The former main party of the far right LAOS was destroyed by its participation, along with New Democracy and PASOK, in the previous coalition government that had implemented cuts and upheld the agreement with the Troika of the EU, European Central Bank and IMF. They have given way to the openly fascist Golden Dawn party who are virulently anti-immigrant and racist and many of whose leaders have criminal convictions.


Each of the three leading parties was given the opportunity to form a workable coalition and failed. New Democracy and PASOK both clung to the programme of further swingeing cuts which had been thoroughly rejected by voters. SYRIZA too was given the opportunity to form a government on its platform of rejecting the impositions of Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington. Its leader Alexis Tsipras wrote an open letter to the Troika representatives, arguing that the election outcome rejecting austerity had nullified any previous agreements with the former Greek government. He also put forward a five-point plan in negotiations with all other parties as follows:

Cancelling the bailout terms, notably laws that further cut wages and pensions
Scrapping laws that abolish workers’ rights, particularly a law abolishing collective labour agreements due to come into effect on 15 May
Promoting changes to deepen democracy and social justice
Investigating Greece’s banking system which received almost 200bn euros of public money
Setting up an international committee to find out the causes of Greece’s public deficit and putting on hold all debt servicing

This was rejected by all negotiating partners, but it is clear to voters that there is serious intent to oppose the bailout terms as agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding between the former Greek government and the Troika. It will be equally clear that the two failed ruling parties remain committed to the current disastrous policy. They also unsuccessfully attempted to cast SYRIZA as an anti-EU party, rather than an anti-Memorandum one. The EU remains popular in Greece, and SYRIZA is not opposed to membership. PASOK and the ND were helped in their efforts by statements from the leadership of the Democratic Left, who nevertheless recoiled from forming a coalition with the parties of the failed ‘mainstream’.

Latest opinion polls suggest that SYRIZA’s advance is being extended, and it is now the most popular party in Greece at around twenty-seven per cent. A fresh election may now be unavoidable, with most commentators suggesting the President’s efforts to set up a pro-austerity government of technocrats likely to fail. If so, socialists everywhere and all those suffering from the ruling class offensive in Europe have an interest in an even larger vote for the genuine opponents of austerity in Greece, led currently by SYRIZA.