A first round of elections in the Greek Parliament failed on Wednesday night and that's good news for the nation's ascendent leftist Syriza Party which is surging in public polls for its anti-austerity position on the economy.
"The scaremongering of recent days fell on stony ground. The strategy of fear has collapsed. Tomorrow will be a new day that is more optimistic because democracy cannot be blackmailed." —Alexis Tsipras, Syriza
In an effort to prevent a popular vote by the nation's citizens, members of the sitting parliament in Greece have three chances to elect a new president. The first vote ended with only 160 votes cast for the conservative, pro-austerity candidate put forth by the current government, 40 votes short of the needed 200 votes needed.
A second election will take place on December 23. If that vote also fails a final attempt will made on December 29. If a new president is still not elected, popular elections will take place in the new year. As the Greek Reporter notes, "The Greek Constitution states that if a President is not elected, the country must hold general elections within a month."
This exactly what Syriza wants and the leftist party is withholding all of its vote in Parliament as a way to force general elections. Which makes sense, because as recent polling indicates, the popularity of Syriza's anti-austerity platform has been steadily rising over recent years while the economic prospects of most Greeks has continued to dwindle amid increased unemployment, a grand privatization scheme, and slashes to public services, public pensions, and wages.
As the Guardian's Helena Smith reports from Athens:
Polls released early on Wednesday had reinforced surveys suggesting the far left Syriza party would win in the event of snap elections. The prospect of the radicals assuming power has spooked international markets, reviving fears that twice bailed-out Athens could reignite the eurozone crisis.
Reacting to the result, Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, said: “The scaremongering of recent days fell on stony ground. The strategy of fear has collapsed. Tomorrow will be a new day that is more optimistic because democracy cannot be blackmailed.”
The main opposition party had accused the government of waging a “terror campaign” to frighten MPs ahead of the vote. Samaras has repeatedly said a Syriza electoral victory would lead the country to economic collapse and exit from the eurozone.
The high-stakes vote, brought forward by the coalition in an effort to quash the political uncertainty plaguing Greece, had unleashed frenetic politicking as Samaras’s fragile alliance had tried to crack target numbers.
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On Wednesday, ahead of the vote, Channel 4 News' Paul Mason spoke with MP George Stathakis, an economic professor from Crete and a prominent Syriza member, who explained, "There are two camps in Europe: The one that wants to go on with austerity, and the one that says: use quantitative easing and fiscal expansion to boost growth. Syriza is part of that second camp."
"The rich, the elites, the markets, the super-rich, the top 10%, yes, they obviously do have reason to worry.... They will lose their privileges." —Nikos Samanidis, SyrizaAsked how the European private sector and financial market would respond to having a Marxist economic professor running the Greek Treasury if Syriza were to take over control of the government, Stathakis smiled as he replied, "The left at this very moment represents the very hope of change and getting Greece back into a proper—normal—economic society as we know it."
In a recent interview with the BBC, another prominent Syriza member, Nikos Samanidis, emphasized how the prospect of taking power in Greece has not blunted the radical nature of his party.
"The rich, the elites, the markets, the super-rich, the top 10%, yes, they obviously do have reason to worry," Samanidis said.
And he explained why. The wealthy and the elites, he said, "will lose their privileges."
"Our voter base has expanded greatly, but the grassroots, radical nature of Syriza has been preserved thanks to the crisis," he continued. "Our party has not and will not sever its ties with the streets, with the social movements it arose from."
Watch Mason's report: