OPINION

We gained some time, but burned our brakes

The June 17 elections allow us to keep open a channel of communication with our partners so that we can work on a new plan for a way out of the crisis with the least possible instability. But it is very likely that we have just slowed our rush toward the cliff and burned our brakes in the process. For things to start changing, the parties that will sit in the new Parliament will have to overcome themselves ? at precisely the time when some feel justified in the positions they have taken while others, deeply wounded, will stick to their policies with greater desperation. In all cases, it is difficult to hope for a new spirit of cooperation.

The biggest winners are center-right New Democracy, which came first with about 30 percent of the vote, and radical left SYRIZA, which saw its percentage of the vote rocket from less than 5 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in May and about 27 percent yesterday. Neither, however, has a majority on its own. SYRIZA has made clear that it will not take part in any government, even if ND fails in its effort to forge a coalition and the exploratory mandate is passed on to the second party. SYRIZA, with the anti-austerity wind in its sails, will be a powerful opposition force. It insists that the Memorandum, which demands reforms in exchange for loans, was annulled by the strong anti-austerity vote in May, that the policies demanded by the Memorandum ?lack popular legitimacy.? As party leader Alexis Tsipras put it, SYRIZA ?will be present at all developments.?

Antonis Samaras, ND’s leader, has a difficult task ahead: first he must manage to put together a coalition, either with PASOK alone or with PASOK and the Democratic Left (DHMAR), and then try to govern at a time that demands difficult decisions. SYRIZA has the strength and every reason to oppose the bailout agreement, in order to confirm its rejection of it. In order to forge a government, Samaras will have to concede to the demands of his potential partners, whereas he has repeatedly shown in his career that he finds it very difficult to compromise and cooperate.

PASOK is in confusion. Although it knew that many of its supporters would vote for ND, so that it would come first in the election and so prevent the 50-seat bonus from going to SYRIZA, the party still managed to hold on to the 12-13 percent that it won in May. Yet it is still afraid of losing more to SYRIZA. Last night, party leader Evangelos Venizelos repeated that he will not enter a coalition that does not include SYRIZA ? which, of course, has no reason to suffer the political cost of government that PASOK itself fears. DHMAR, with its 17 seats, would not be sufficient for ND (with its 130) to form a government without PASOK (with 33). Anyhow, DHMAR, too, would not enter a government without SYRIZA.

The ND-led government that might be formed, then, will be with partners who will have a hard time working with ND, who are not related to it ideologically, and, fearing more losses to SYRIZA, will press demands that tie Samaras’s hands. SYRIZA, the far right, nationalistic Independent Greeks and the neonazi Golden Dawn, all of whom came out of the election with greater self-confidence, as well as the Communist Party (whose percentage was nearly halved in just over a month, from 8.5 percent to 4.5 percent) will refuse any compromise with the government.

All of the parties will stick to their own policies – either because they feel justified by the election result, or because they feel that they lost votes because they did not push their policies hard enough. This will lead to endless conflict. At a time when very difficult decisions are needed to implement reforms in Greece and to conduct negotiations with our partners, it is most unlikely that we will see the necessary national consensus. Instead, it is very likely that we will have instability and yet another election. Let’s hope that the parties surpass themselves and prove us wrong.