Elections in Greece: What happened and what’s next

New Democracy, which the big business press calls a center-right party, won the July 7 election in Greece with 39.8 percent of the vote. It has 158 seats in parliament — a comfortable majority that let it form a majority government. The leader of ND, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, took over as prime minister on July 8.

Syriza, a social democratic party that describes itself as the Coalition of the Radical Left, came in second with 31.5 percent. It had been running the government since January 2015 when it was elected on an anti-austerity platform.

There are reasons for Syriza’s decline. Its prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, held a referendum July 5, 2015, in which 61 percent of the voters rejected the draconian conditions that the Troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission — had imposed on Greece for it to qualify for a third bailout loan. Just 10 days later, the Tsipras government reached an agreement with the Troika for a three-year bailout, with even harsher austerity conditions than the ones rejected by the voters.

For the election this July 7, Syriza had to run on its record. The center-right ND, however, could rely on promises to make life better, even though Greeks know that ND was involved in the first two bailouts; and that Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the son of a reactionary, anti-working-class prime minister and the brother of a former right-wing mayor of Athens. Mitsokakis wants to “improve” the job market by making the work week seven days long, privatizing hospitals and health care, and cutting social security.

While disgruntlement with Syriza might have been the reason for a sharp increase in abstentions, which reached 42 percent, Syriza appears to have benefited from workers and progressives choosing it as the “lesser of two evils.” However, it has lost a great deal of credibility by at first running as an opponent of austerity and then, when it was in power, adopting very harsh policies.

The ND was also able to win because it picked up votes from some right-wing parties, like ANEL and POTAMI, which had lost so much support they didn’t even run in the election. The ND votes were concentrated in the petty bourgeois and bourgeois areas around Athens. But there does not appear to have been a major shift to the right among Greek workers. 

The victory of Syriza in the 2015 election had been hailed both in Europe and North America as a victory of the left, as a big step forward for social democracy. Besides numerous articles in newspapers and magazines and numerous symposia, there was even a book, “The Syriza Wave” by Irish leftist Helena Sheehan, that described “the surging and crashing” of the Greek left.

Serious economic challenges

The ND government is going to face serious economic challenges. Between 400,000 and 600,000 of Greece’s educated and skilled workers, unable to find decent jobs, have left in the past 10 years. The economy has shrunk by a quarter during that time. Unemployment is at 18 percent and poverty — already at 35 percent — is increasing. Greece’s bailout creditors have rejected a call to ease strict budget targets.

ND’s economic “solution” is obviously going to increase misery for Greek workers. That means it will have to confront the Greek Communist Party (KKE) — which for over 100 years has consistently opposed Greek capitalism — as well as the powerful and militant Greek trade unions.

The KKE came in fourth in the elections, with 300,000 votes (5.3 percent) and 15 seats in parliament. That is very close to what it has received in the past few elections. The KKE is closely tied to PAME, the All Workers Militant Front, a union with 800,000 members, and has participated in many of the general strikes and other labor actions over the past five years.

A KKE July 8 statement on the election contains this pledge: “The votes of the KKE will be utilized from tomorrow morning in every workplace, neighborhood, in the schools, in the universities to organize struggles in order to block new measures, in order to bring relief to all who suffer.”

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