A hastily arranged three-week election campaign in a country now apathetic towards its political class for the unbearable burden of reforms and austerity. This Greek election is being seen as nothing more than a mirage for the country’s creditors who are running the show. What the country needs now is a period of political stability.
A late swing towards Syriza in the polls is being reported today, after barely any space between the leftist party and its conservative rival, New Democracy. What’s more, they can do nothing more to convince the Greek people, as campaigning drew to an end with roaring rallies in squares in the Greek capital, Athens.
A new mandate for Syriza would mean a measure of credibility after signing off the country’s finances to international creditors this summer, staving off a Grexit apocalypse, which seems to be far from the horizon. They are at the behest of the Eurozone machine and Germany, who expect any new government to fully comply with pressing reforms. Warnings from the European Commission were just as unyielding.
It is probable that coalition talks will have to begin as the mist clears on Monday morning and results become clear – neither party is expected to win a majority. Expect no coalition between Syriza and New Democracy – their economic policies differ greatly, and Syriza points the finger at ND for being partly responsible for the country’s economic problems, being part of the ‘old guard’. New Democracy believe Tsipras and his fractured party don’t have the will to implement reforms and that only they can be trusted to grow Greece’s economy. For its part, output is expected to contract by two per-cent despite unexpected growth of 0.8% in the second quarter of the year.
The new leader in government will be the seventh prime minister since the Greek debt crisis begin in 2009, in an electoral process which has occurred five times over in six years. It is no wonder that Greeks are experiencing a severe bout of election fatigue.
Syriza is still a relatively new party, elected untested just eight months ago. It would be unfair for them to assume the blame for years and years of economic mismanagement beforehand. Tsipras put it quite humorously – it’s like someone who drank three bottles of whisky and a shot of vodka then claiming it was the vodka that had given him a hangover. It depends how well you handle your drink for this metaphor to work, of course.
One of Syriza’s key pledges is a cleaning-up exercise – a definitive end to self-serving politicians who corrupted the system, leading to the financial crisis that the same politicians claimed they were managing. It is a populist, leftist message which is not unique in Europe.
Tsipras appeared at the rally alongside Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, pointing again to the huge European significance of Greece’s national vote. Elections in Portugal and Spain – Southern European states that were forced to seek financial assistance from Europe – have the economy at the heart of their campaign.
Tsipras said: “The message of our victory will be sent to Pablo in Spain, Gerry Adams in Ireland and to a progressive prime minister in Portugal.”
Portugal exited its bailout last year with its economy steadying and growing after three years of recession. The vote there on 4th October mirrors Greece as far as the likelihood of a coalition is concerned. Neither the centre-right ruling coalition nor the centre-left opposition Socialists can claim a full majority.
In Spain, leaders can boast one of the largest eurozone growth figures for this year, as polls there are yet to hand a majority to either the ruling conservatives or opposition Socialists.
It is a sort of political paralysis as anti-establishment parties continue to fracture traditional bipartite systems.
The European left will likely use a Syriza victory to show the pernicious effect of austerity on the social fabric of a country, which will be lumbered with yet more cuts. Those out of work reached 25.2% in July in what many call a “lost generation”.
Unemployment in Portugal is roughly in line with the European average at 11%, while in Spain, it is stubbornly at 22%. In both countries, it remains the young who are the most precarious.
Any coalition government will oversee the management of Greece’s bailout, ensuring a smooth path ahead for the country’s financial system after capital controls – still in place – were imposed earlier this year when the banking system went virtually bust.
Surprisingly, market traders have scarcely been kept awake at night by the Greek vote after Tsipras’ climb-down this summer. It is accepted that any incoming leader will have no choice but to swallow the bailout pill.
Before word of elections, talk in the summer of debt restructuring or debt reduction was rife in Europe. Germany said it was out of the question, while other economists argued it was the only way to stop Greece being straddled with debts for decades to come. Will there be any movement on this when negotiations begin in earnest?
For the country’s new leader, the interminable flow of migrants to Greece’s coastline may prove to be one of the most pressing problems. Greece borders several Balkan countries which are but the latest route for thousands of people on the move.
Sunday’s election is yet another chapter in the ongoing problems for Europe, solutions for which are elusive and painful.