The tumultuous political saga of the Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, continued Sunday night in Greece as the left-wing coalition party claimed victory in snap elections against their conservative rivals despite acceptance earlier this year of a new round of austerity measures imposed by the nation's foreign creditors in exchange for new loan packages.
With nearly all votes counted, Syriza secured 145 seats in the 300-seat parliament with just over 35% of the vote compared to the center-right New Democracy's 28% and 75 seats.
"With a gun to their head, most voters were convinced that there was no choice but to accept continuing depression, for this year and 2016. But there are in fact better choices than the major parties were offering." —Mark Weibrot, CEPR
At a victory rally in Athens on Sunday night, Tsipras said the electoral victory was hard-won and that despite the difficult year in which his coalition fractured as it battled against the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and International Monetary Fund—the so-called "Troika"—Syriza has received a new "mandate" from the Greek people to turn its economy around despite projections that continued austerity will spell ongoing pain.
"This victory belongs to the people and those who dream of a better tomorrow and we’ll achieve it with hard work," Tsipras declared.
On the streets, the mood so was not so upbeat.
"I am pessimistic," Nikos Georgopoulos, a 40-year-old civil servant in Athens, told the Associated Press, "because we already knew which line of politics will be followed—the politics of the third (bailout). So we know that there is nothing good for the Greek people to wait for."
As Helena Smith and Graeme Wearden report for the Guardian,
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The victory was all the more extraordinary given the tumult of Tsipras’s first term in office, a short tenure that became increasingly fraught as negotiations with creditors became ever more acrimonious.
A referendum on the creditors’ austerity demands added to the turmoil, which ultimately culminated with the closure of banks and imposition of capital controls. In the nearly two months since the restrictions were enforced, the economy has nosedived, with foreign trade coming to a standstill.
Commentators added that the significant abstention rate - as much as 49% of the electorate - helped Syriza. Sunday’s ballot was the third vote in less than nine months for a population evidently worn down by their country’s ongoing economic and political uncertainty.
Young Greeks in particular questioned the point of voting for a government that had reduced its room for political manoeuvre with the stringent bailout deal. But analysts said it was also clear that Syriza supporters had rallied to ensure that the left did not become a footnote in history.
Acknowledging the anxiety of those, like himself, who simply could not back Syriza's acceptance of a third bailout package and new rounds of austerity measures, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis—who resigned in protest over Syriza's failure to reject such a deal—said that despite his previous role within the party, he could no longer support it politically.
In a statement released just prior to Sunday's election, Varoufakis explained how the snap elections had a "double-purpose" that must be recognized:
"The 3rd bailout program is absolutely non-viable and, even worse, it deprives the Greek government (no matter how well-meaning it might be) of any tools in order to break the ties with the oligarchs and the self sustaining crisis." —Yanis Varoufakis, former finance ministerFirst, to nullify the brave NO which 62% of the Greek population (under media fear-mongering and closed banks-capital controls) said to dead end, humiliating and irrational bailout programs and memoranda.
Second, the 'legalization' of the capitulation that followed the signing of the dead end, humiliating and irrational 3rd memorandum.
The 3rd bailout program is absolutely non-viable and, even worse, it deprives the Greek government (no matter how well-meaning it might be) of any tools in order to break the ties with the oligarchs and the self sustaining crisis (i.e. aiming for 3.5% GNP surplus until 2018 and onwards, closure of the Greek Financial Crime Agency and creation of a new agency which will be under the control of the Troika, the creation of a registry for public assets which will be under the control of the Euro Working Group, and a special note of understanding that will pass in the Greek Parliament mentioning that the government must agree with the institutions before taking any measures while the institutions do not have to do the same etc.)
For those reasons it is important that we support parties which (with the exception of the misanthropic and pseudo anti-systemic Golden Dawn) reject the rationale that claims that the only way for Greece in Europe is via the "optimum" realization of the 3rd bailout program. Given that the leadership of Syriza has accepted the T.I.N.A. (There Is No Alternative) dogma which has been used since 2010 as the reason for the acceptance of all the bailout programs and memoranda; those of us who consider that dogma completely fallacious (as well as its continuation for the sixth year destructive for the country and the society) are left with the following choices: The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), The Popular Unity (LAE), or parties which have no hope in entering the parliament.
In the end, however, the Communist Party ended up with just 5.5% of the vote while Popular Unity failed to achieve even 3%. Meanwhile, the rightwing and neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party showed its rising strength by coming in third-place overall, claiming 19 seats in parliament and almost 7% of the popular vote.
Viewing the landscape from afar, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., said that Sunday's election results will change little for most Greeks now that the fresh round of austerity is about to begin.
"Financial terrorism by the European authorities has succeeded, for now," Weisbrot said in a statement. "With a gun to their head, most voters were convinced that there was no choice but to accept continuing depression, for this year and 2016. But there are in fact better choices than the major parties were offering, and there will likely be a number of battles ahead against the implementation of further austerity."
Recognizing the low-turnout as a factor, Weisbrot said it was still notable that Syriza was able to claim such a commanding victory over its more centrist and right-wing rivals, especially given the extreme measures taken by Syriza's enemies, including direct sabotage of the economy, in order to discredit them and drive them from power.
"It is not surprising that, within the framework of surrendering to the European authorities, that voters would choose Syriza, which had at least made an attempt to save the economy from [the Troika's] destruction," said Weisbrot.
"No country ever has to accept a prolonged depression and mass unemployment of this magnitude,” he concluded. "This was a lesson learned during the Great Depression 80 years ago, and the European authorities are trying to make people unlearn it."