OPINION

Are the numbers starting to add up for SYRIZA?

Trying to predict how Greeks will vote on June 17 in the midst of the turmoil created by the country?s grueling economic crisis and the disorientating political transition is a thankless task, but the latest Public Issue poll for Kathimerini indicates we might get a clear result.

More so than at any other point over the last few weeks, Public Issue suggests that SYRIZA has built a commanding — although not decisive or unassailable — lead over New Democracy. The survey shows a rise of 1.5 percent for the leftists since last week, so they now stand at 31.5 percent. New Democracy suffered a marginal decline and sits at 25.5 percent.

They are followed by a struggling PASOK on 13.5 percent, a resurgent Democratic Left (DIMAR) on 7.5 percent, a static Communist Party (KKE) on 5.5 percent, the declining Independent Greeks on 5.5 percent and a shrinking Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) on 4.5 percent. The liberal alliance of Dimiourgia Xana (Recreate Greece) and Drasi falls short of entering Parliament with 2.5 percent.

In terms of parliamentary seats, this translates into 134 for SYRIZA, 68 for New Democracy, 36 for PASOK, 20 for DIMAR, 15 for KKE, 15 for Independent Greeks and 12 for Chrysi Avgi. While SYRIZA could not form a government itself with these numbers, it would only need the support of Democratic Left to have a majority.

At this point, two caveats must be added: Firstly, the poll was conducted before SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras presented his party?s economic program on Friday and, secondly, the May 6 elections showed there can be plenty of movement in the last two weeks of the campaign.

SYRIZA?s economic program has the potential to make or break the leftists. If it is deemed incoherent and full of holes that the other parties can expose, SYRIZA?s aspirations of power could be short-lived. If, on the other hand, it is seen as a coherent agenda that the party can unite behind in a disciplined manner in the final stretch of the campaign, it may be enough to get the radical coalition over the finishing line. SYRIZA?s surge before the May 6 polls came in the last two to three weeks of the campaign, taking most commentators, pollsters and analysts by surprise. It cannot be ruled out that a similar shift will be seen over the next two weeks. Since this is such a close-run contest, it will not take much to swing the final result in favor of SYRIZA or New Democracy.

However, there are certain signs that SYRIZA has managed to build on the momentum it gained on May 6, when it won almost 17 percent of the vote — more than three times the share of the ballot it received in 2009.

The fear for SYRIZA was that having being thrust into the spotlight as a result of its showing on May 6, its weaknesses would be exposed and the party would be left deflated on June 17. The first week or two after the May 6 elections proved a tricky period for the leftists, whose jumbled positions on economic policy and the EU-IMF memorandum undermined the party?s credibility. It also exposed the fact that SYRIZA is a coalition of radical and more moderate forces and that its polyphony can be a serious weakness as well as strength.

Its opponents played on these shortcomings and fears that a confused, immature SYRIZA-led government would jeopardize Greece?s euro membership. Polls indicated an initial rise in support for New Democracy but the Public Issue survey suggests this has tapered off, at least for now.

The danger for SYRIZA was that if it was deemed to lack credibility, some of the support it gained on May 6 would drift back to PASOK or even migrate to Democratic Left, which maintains a more measured opposition to the EU-IMF bailout than the radical leftists. But neither of these things happened. For all the fluctuations polls showed in the support for SYRIZA and ND, PASOK has remained anchored to its feeble showing on May 6. The Socialists have hardly moved from around 13 percent and seem unable to convince their former supporters to return to the fold. In contrast, Democratic Left shows a modest rise, but this has not come at the expense of SYRIZA. There has been a drastic fall in the number of people intending to vote for parties that won?t get into Parliament. If SYRIZA and Democratic Left are drawing support from this pool and not from each other, then Tsipras?s party doesn?t face a strong threat from the left side of the political spectrum.

In fact, the Public Issue poll indicates that SYRIZA is fishing support from an even larger tank. Over the last few months, a growing proportion of Greeks has positioned itself on the left wing of Greek politics. According to the latest survey, half of those questioned said they identified with the left. This was up from 39 percent just over a month earlier. Those identifying with the right, however, are at 28 percent, which has remained virtually unchanged for the last six weeks.

This presents a serious problem for New Democracy. These numbers suggest its potential appeal has a much lower ceiling than SYRIZA and that it has almost reached it. The conservatives have tried to pull out all the stops to build on the slim lead of 2 percent they had over the leftists on May 6. This included welcoming back Dora Bakoyannis, who suspended the operation of her Democratic Alliance party, and several members of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and Independent Greeks, all of which had been a drain on ND?s support. However, now that?s been done, ND leader Antonis Samaras has nowhere else to turn to generate support. He?s brought in the reinforcements but still seems outnumbered by Tsipras?s amassing troops.

The last vestige of hope for Samaras has been to polarize the campaign, to turn it into an all-out battle between the responsible conservatives who would keep Greece on an even keel and in the euro and the reckless leftists who dream impossible schemes that would ensure the return of the drachma and deep misery. So far, the euro-vs-drachma dilemma has had only limited appeal and time is running out for Samaras to state his case convincingly.

The presentation of his party?s economic program on Thursday lacked the pomp and circumstance of previous addresses at Zappeio Hall but, more crucially, seemed to carry little weight. Media interest was scant and the ideas presented were tired. It had the air of an inconsequential conference, where everyone was staring at the clock for the last speaker of the day to finish. Compare this with the heightened expectation for Tsipras?s address on Friday, and the SYRIZA leader seemed like the guy with all the momentum. Brighter and fresher, he even got his audience of their seats a couple of times. Maybe the body language and aura meant very little but one imagines the conservatives would have gladly swapped places with the leftists at this stage of the campaign.

One encouraging sign for the conservatives could be that almost twice as many Greeks think that ND will win the elections as those who believe SYRIZA will come first. The leftists want to break with the past but they have to conquer it first by making people believe a SYRIZA-led government is possible and viable. It may be the only thing left standing between them and what until recently was an election result nobody could have predicted.

[Kathimerini English Edition]