Has our political system reached rock bottom?

By Nikos Konstandaras

We still don’t know if our economy has reached the long-desired “rock bottom,” the point at which the only way is up. The results of the voting for the European Parliament and for local government suggest that there may be an equivalent point in politics – a base which expresses voters’ needs and anxieties. When the final results confirm initial estimates, it will be useful for our political parties to take stock of their responsibility toward their voters and shape their policies accordingly.

On Sunday it appeared that in the Euro election, the leftwing opposition party SYRIZA won about 26.7 percent, followed by New Democracy with 22.8 percent, Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn with 9.3 percent, the Elia alliance (PASOK) with 8.1 percent and To Potami with 6.7 percent. We can see that SYRIZA won the most votes but failed to improve on its result in the national elections of June 2012 (26.89 percent). Center right New Democracy, the senior partner in the coalition government, managed to hold on to a large number of its voters from 2012 (when it won 29.66 percent), even though it made a large number of tactical errors and is carrying out a harsh austerity program that includes punitive taxation. Elia gained less than the 12.28 percent that PASOK won in 2012, but it was a lot more than opinion polls were giving the coalition’s junior partner.

The Euro elections are fertile ground for a protest vote and SYRIZA had made clear that this was a referendum that would lead to the government’s being forced to call early elections. Late last night, SYRIZA’s candidate was involved in a tight race to head the Attica Region, whereas Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis managed to hold off a strong challenge by a leftist hopeful. If SYRIZA had managed to win the country’s largest region and its capital, it would have had a much stronger result. Now, without increasing its nationwide percentage, it cannot claim that the result overturns the political order.

On the contrary, the reelection of Kaminis in Athens and Yiannis Boutaris in Thessaloniki showed that voters appreciate the effort of people who did not have the support of large parties but whose acts spoke louder than words. It is also a good sign that To Potami gained a substantial percentage in its first election, confirming the need for something new in our politics. This, too, is a sign that change is coming out of our politics’ impasse.

However, Golden Dawn’s strong showing – which, despite the charges of criminal activity against leading cadres increased its percentage from the 6.92 percent it won in 2012 – indicates that come what may a large number of voters choose to express themselves through the respresentatives of rage and bigotry. The whole political system and society must deal with this problem, lest it turns out that the well into which we have fallen really has no bottom.

The elections did not overturn anything. They did result in 21 Greek members of the European Parliament, 13 regional governors and 325 mayors, along with thousands of councillors. If they can understand that they were elected to represent and to serve a nation that is suffering, then we will be able to say that something is changing for the better.