SYRIZA, the main leftist opposition party, may be dynamic but it lacks the power to overturn the political scene. The government appears resilient – if we can judge from the performance of candidates in the municipal and regional elections who are backed by New Democracy and PASOK – but it also received a loud message from voters. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has taken root in Greek politics and society. Polarization played a key role in determining the result of the first round of voting and will increase during this week, before Sunday’s runoff and the election for the European Parliament.
Like two boxers in the ring after months of verbal jousting, the government and the main opposition party circled each other, threw a few punches, created some impressions, overturned some predictions but did not come to any specific outcome. There was no surprise nor any improvement in the level of our politics. SYRIZA – which has seemed unable to improve further on support stemming from popular anger at government policies, again seemed to fall short of knocking down its rival.
The initial impression from Sunday’s ballot (thanks to exit polls that turned out to be wrong) was that SYRIZA had dealt a serious blow to the government. As the night wore on, it emerged that the leftist candidate for regional governor of Attica, Rena Dourou, was not way ahead of her rival but that her lead was between 1 and 2 percent. Whereas the exit polls had put SYRIZA’s candidate for mayor of Athens in first place, it was the incumbent, Giorgos Kaminis, who won by a slim margin. Outside Attica there were no results to suggest the opposition party was gaining in a way that would make life difficult for the government. The development that must be examined seriously by society and our political system is the strong showing by Golden Dawn in both the Attica region and Athens (where its candidates polled 11.1 percent and 16.1 percent respectively). Clearly, the judicial investigation into charges of criminal activity by the party did not dissuade voters who wanted to express their anger, insecurity and bigotry through this extremist group.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s decision to propose ND party members for the mayorships of Athens and Thessaloniki, and for regional governors in Attica and the Thessaloniki area, deprived New Democracy of an opportunity to show that it would support incumbents who had proven their worth and did not operate solely on the basis of party interests. ND candidates came up short in these polls. One of the most encouraging signs of Sunday’s election was the resilience shown by Kaminis in Athens and his Thessaloniki counterpart, Yiannis Boutaris: Both are through to the second round after having improved their cities and softened the hardships caused by the economic and social crisis.
The polarization of the past few weeks has shown that our politicians cannot make a break from practices that have an immediate impact as well as widening rifts in society. This polarization obstructs communication between us and also makes it more difficult to negotiate with our partners and creditors. An increase in tension ahead of the European Parliament vote, which SYRIZA has declared a referendum on government policy, may also turn out to be deadly for smaller parties contesting the poll, as many of their voters may choose to back one of the two big rivals. Last Sunday’s vote decided very little, leaving all options open for next weekend.