Greek Election May Yet Prove a Victory for Syriza

A rocky coalition between New Democracy and the pro-bailout left could leave Syriza as a formidable force in opposition

The conservative New Democracy will turn to the center-left party, Pasok to form a coalition in Greece. This will give them 162 MPs in the 300-seat parliament but they are unlikely to leave it at that. Syriza's rise has put pressure on these traditional forces to create a wider coalition, one whose roots spread into Greek society as widely as possible and which has an ample parliamentary buffer. The only viable candidate as a third coalition partner is Democratic Left, which gained 6.2% and 17 seats on Sunday. The moderate pro-euro leftist party opposes the austerity measures and has called for a gradual "disengagement" from the bailout. Given that Pasok and New Democracy both favor extending Greece's fiscal adjustment period, due to end in 2014, by at least two years, the easing of austerity is something that all three parties can agree on.

Following the inconclusive 6 May elections, the Democratic Left party passed up the opportunity to join ND and Pasok in government. It had one eye on Syriza's strengthened position and feared being tarnished as a traitor to leftist ideals. Yesterday's elections removed the possibility of a leftwing government but it didn't negate Greece's desperate need to be governed. Democratic Left has to decide whether it will be part of an administration that has a better chance than at any stage since 2010 of convincing the country's lenders that an austerity-centered program in a recession-wracked economy is not going to produce results.

The best-case scenario for a New Democracy-Pasok-Democratic Left coalition would be to gain some concessions from the eurozone that would allow the government to do more than just chase its tail in an effort to find revenues and cut spending over the next few months as Greece heads for an economic contraction more than 5% of GDP this year. This could allow for more attention to be paid to structural reforms, particularly overhauling Greece's inefficient public administration. A relaxation of asphyxiating austerity, relative economic stability and signs that the country was actually starting to put right some of the problems that brought it to the brink would start to win public opinion around.

Of course, this demands a level of co-operation between rival parties that Greek politics has rarely witnessed. It calls for levels of determination that Greek politicians have consistently failed to show. It will also require vision and planning, qualities that have been painfully absent from political life in Greece for many years. Without this, Greece will be left with uncomfortable political bedfellows applying failed policies handed down to them by the EU and IMF. This will be the road to ruin.

In this case, Syriza, with the freedom it will have as an opposition party and boosted by the swelling current of support that swept it to second place on Sunday, will be in a position to become a formidable force of resistance. In the fluctuating world of Greek politics, Sunday's defeat may yet prove a victory for the leftists.

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