Elections 2015 | Party Profiles

Party: New Democracy

Founded: 1974

Leader: Antonis Samaras

Brief history: The conservative party was founded in 1974 by veteran politician Constantine Karamanlis, who became Greece’s first prime minister following the fall of the military dictatorship. Karamanlis stepped aside in 1980 and the party suffered a series of election defeats at the hands of PASOK before Constantine Mitsotakis led it to power in 1990. But his turbulent period in office ended in 1993 when an ND mutiny led by Antonis Samaras triggered the government’s collapse and PASOK’s return to power. Costas Karamanlis, nephew of Constantine, led the party to a narrow election defeat in 2000. In 2004, however, he became Greece’s youngest prime minister thanks to a big election win and a policy of appealing to the middle ground. However, Karamanlis’s government largely struggled to deliver on the economic and public sector reforms it had promised and in its later stages became embroiled in corruption scandals. It suffered a landslide defeat in 2009, leaving behind a burgeoning public deficit and debt. Rehabilitated after a long period in the political wilderness, Samaras succeeded Karamanlis and quickly sought to move the party to the right. New Democracy opposed the first EU-IMF bailout but in November 2011 reluctantly joined the coalition government that negotiated the second loan agreement. After winning the June 2012 elections, Samaras led a coalition with one-time fierce rival PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR). He quickly sought to mend Greece’s relationship with the troika by insisting that Greece would meet its fiscal targets. This policy led to Greece producing a primary surplus in 2013, a year ahead of schedule. DIMAR, however, quit the coalition in June 2013, when public broadcaster ERT was shut down. Although Greece returned to bond markets in April 2014, Samaras’s government began to lose its way soon afterwards. New Democracy was beaten by SYRIZA in the May European Parliament elections and Samaras announced in September that he would try to lead Greece out of its bailout by the end of the year, almost 18 months before schedule. However, efforts to wrap up the troika review failed and the government had to ask for a two-month extension. Samaras moved forward the date of the presidential election from mid-February to December but his candidate, ex-European commissioner Stavros Dimas, did not gather the necessary amount of votes, which triggered snap polls.

Main campaign points: Samaras wants to continue with his plan to exit the bailout, using some 11.5 billion euros left from the money Greece borrowed to recapitalize its banks as a precautionary credit line. The New Democracy leader wants to build on Greece’s return to growth last year through further privatizations and reducing the corporate tax rate to 15 percent.

2012 elections: 29.66 percent

2014 EU elections: 22.72 percent


Founded: 2004

Leader: Alexis Tsipras

Brief history: SYRIZA was born of the cooperation of a number of leftist groups, some with their roots in Eurocommunist movements. Following a bumpy start, the coalition more than doubled the number of its MPs to 14 in the 2007 under the leadership of Alekos Alavanos. A year earlier, Alavanos had placed 30-year-old Alexis Tsipras on the party’s ticket for municipal elections in Athens to some success. In 2007, Tsipras was elected party leader at 33, a particularly young age for Greek politics. The party’s poll ratings soared as voters appeared encouraged by the leftists’ youthful look. However, this attraction proved fleeting and SYRIZA’s support dropped slightly at the 2009 elections, partly on the back of Tsipras adopting an equivocal stance during the unrest in December 2008 that followed the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy in Athens by a police officer. SYRIZA suffered a further blow in 2010, when four experienced MPs quit the party to form a new movement, Democratic Left, due to concerns about positions on a number of issues, most notably Greece’s relationship with the EU. SYRIZA’s support skyrocketed ahead of the first of two elections in 2012. The leftists came close to winning the May vote but support for New Democracy rallied in the second ballot and SYRIZA started a new chapter in its history as the main opposition party. Since 2012, the party has softened some of its radical policies on Greece’s bailout agreement and Tsipras has committed to keeping the euro. The party has also held talks with EU and IMF officials, as well as investors. SYRIZA’s steady lead in opinion polls was cemented by its victory in the May European Parliament elections, when it received 26.5 percent of the vote.

Main campaign points: SYRIZA believes the Greek economy cannot truly recover until the country’s debt is made sustainable. It wants the troika to write down the majority of Greece’s public debt, which reached almost 175 percent of GDP last year. It also wants the troika to drop its demands for primary surpluses of 4.5 percent of GDP in favor of balanced budgets. SYRIZA also wants to use EU structural funds to put together a 5-billion-euro economic stimulus program that would create some 300,000 jobs.

2012 elections: 26.89 percent

2014 EU elections: 26.57 percent

Party: PASOK

Founded: 1974

Leader: Evangelos Venizelos

Brief history: The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) was formed by Andreas Papandreou following the collapse of the military dictatorship in 1974 and grew to be the dominant force in Greek politics for the next 38 years. It came to power in 1981 and became synonymous with a state-centric economic model and the broadening of the public sector. Leading the party’s so-called “modernizing” wing, Costas Simitis succeeded Papandreou in 1996. He led Greece into the euro on the back of some belt-tightening but made way for George Papandreou, Andreas’s son, before the 2004 elections. PASOK began to flag after many years in office and was unable to shake off its association with corruption. Following a period of unsure leadership, George Papandreou was elected prime minister in 2009 but soon had to deal with a major debt crisis that led to Greece being bailed out by the EU and IMF. The austerity program that accompanied the troika bailout, along with Papandreou’s erratic handling of the situation damaged the party’s popularity. Papandreou resigned as prime minister in November 2011 and as PASOK leader a few months later. He was succeeded by one-time leadership rival and former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos. Venizelos has seen his parliamentary dwindle since the June 2012 elections as MPs started to oppose the continuing austerity measures and structural reforms that the party was forced to adopt. Tension within the party boiled over in early January when several MPs left to join a new party formed by Papandreou.

Main campaign points: Venizelos advocates seeing out Greece’s bailout program and moving to a precautionary credit line from the eurozone that would allow Athens to borrow from the markets. The PASOK leader has indicated that he would be willing to enter a government with New Democracy again but would also consider working with SYRIZA if the two parties can agree a common platform after the January 25 elections.

2012 elections: 12.28 percent

2014 EU elections: 8.02 percent

Party: Independent Greeks

Founded: 2012

Leader: Panos Kammenos

Brief history: Independent Greeks is a right-wing party formed by ousted New Democracy MP Panos Kammenos in February 2012. Kammenos, known for his bombastic style, believes that Greece was the victim of an international conspiracy and that the EU-IMF bailouts have allowed its lenders to exploit the country. He labelled the politicians – especially former Prime Minister George Papandreou — who negotiated the bailouts as “traitors.” The party’s platform was first unveiled on Facebook and Independent Greeks initially enjoyed a rapid rise due to effective use of social media. Since electing 20 MPs in the June 2012 elections, Independent Greeks have experienced a roller coaster ride, with internal disputes leading to the size of the party’s parliamentary group dwindling to 12. In December, Independent Greeks alleged several attempts to bribe their MPs so they would vote for the government’s presidential candidate but none of the claims were proved.

Main manifesto points: Kammenos is strongly opposed to Greece’s bailout and has said he would be willing to bridge the ideological divide with SYRIZA to form a government. Kammenos, who has served in government in the past, presented himself as an experienced hand to help overcome SYRIZA’s inexperience. Independent Greeks want all the memorandum-related laws to be annulled and part of Greece’s debt to be written down.

2012 elections: 7.51 percent

2014 EU elections: 6.6 percent

Party: Golden Dawn

Founded: 1993

Leader: Nikos Michaloliakos

Brief history: Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was active in far-right politics for a number of years before Golden Dawn was officially recognized as a party in 1993. He met with leaders of the 1967-74 military junta while serving a jail sentence for illegal possession of explosives and has said he was “proud” to serve in the same jail wing as the imprisoned colonels. The party expresses open admiration for the 1936-41 dictatorship led by Ioannis Metaxas and associates itself closely with Nazi ideology and imagery, although Michaloliakos claims he is a nationalist who is fighting the “new world order” and corruption in Greek politics. The party gained its first major electoral breakthrough in the local elections of 2010 when Michaloliakos won a seat on Athens municipal council. The party campaigned heavily in parts of central Athens where some residents feel threatened by rising crime and the concentration of undocumented immigrants. Golden Dawn gained 18 seats in Parliament in the 2012 elections and used this platform, along with parliamentary immunity and public funding, to promote the party. Golden Dawn’s rising popularity only started to fall after the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a party member in September 2013. The incident prompted a police crackdown that led to dozens of members and several MPs being arrested. Michaloliakos and another seven MPs are still in pre-trial custody, awaiting a trial that is due to start in March. They face charges of forming a criminal organization. Golden Dawn has had its state funding suspended pending the outcome of the trial. Dozens of cases involving attacks, in some cases fatal, by Golden Dawn members on migrants and political opponents have emerged since Fyssas’s murder.

Main campaign points: Golden Dawn is opposed to Greece’s bailout and wants to repudiate the country’s debt unilaterally. It also advocates expelling all irregular migrants.

2012 election: 6.92 percent

2014 EU election: 9.39 percent

Party: Democratic Left (DIMAR)

Founded: 2010

Leader: Fotis Kouvelis

Brief history: Democratic Left was formed when four MPs quit SYRIZA in 2010. It look set to play a major part in the 2012 elections, drawing disgruntled supporters from SYRIZA and PASOK, but was usurped by SYRIZA. Nevertheless, became part of the coalition government in June 2012. It left the three-party administration a year later in disagreement over the sudden closure of public broadcaster ERT. Since then, the party has been ridden with internal rifts that has led to it shedding MPs. DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis aligned his party with SYRIZA for the presidential vote in December but the prospect of the two parties working together for the elections foundered on SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras’s refusal to proceed with such a plan. DIMAR is cooperating with the Greens for these elections

Main manifesto points: DIMAR believes it is unrealistic for Greece to unilaterally reject the troika’s demands to close the last bailout review and proposes a renegotiation of terms. It also favors the mutualization of debt in the eurozone through Eurobonds. DIMAR is open to cooperating with SYRIZA but has indicated it would not work with New Democracy again.

2012 elections: 6.25 percent

2014 elections: 1.2 percent

Party: Communist Party (KKE)

Founded: 1918

Leader: Dimitris Koutsoubas

Brief history: Founded in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Greek Communist Party was initially known as the Socialist Labor Party of Greece. It adopted Marxist-Leninist principles in 1924 and has since functioned according to democratic centralism. It played a significant role in the formation of trade unions but the party was outlawed by dictator Ioannis Metaxas in 1936. Members of the Communist Party played a significant role in Greece’s resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II but political differences then sparked the Civil War, which ended in 1949 and led to KKE being outlawed again. It did not regain legal status until the collapse of the military dictatorship in 1974. However, the Communist Party split into two: the “exterior”, which took its lead from Moscow, and the “interior”, which developed a more independent voice. The latter merged in 1989 with other leftist parties to form the Synaspismos coalition, which later became part of SYRIZA. KKE has maintained a staunch Marxist-Leninist line since then, refusing to cooperate with other parties — even to organize strikes or demonstrations — and insisting on nothing less than the overthrow of the capitalist system. Party official Dimitris Koutsoubas took over as KKE’s general secretary from veteran Aleka Papariga in April 2013

Main campaign points: KKE is the only party to openly favor a Greek exit from the eurozone and the European Union. Koutsoubas says KKE will not take part in any coalition government and has rejected calls from SYRIZA to give the leftist party its consent to form a minority government if Tsipras’s party does not get a parliamentary majority.

2012 election result: 4.5 percent

2014 EU election result: 6.11 percent

Party: Movement of Democratic Socialists

Founded: 2015

Leader: George Papandreou

History: Former PASOK leader and ex-Prime Minister George Papandreou launched the party on January 3, 2015, after becoming frustrated with the Socialist party. Papandreou had requested that PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos hold a party congress and allow a leadership elections. Venizelos rejected the proposal, prompting Papandreou to part ways.

Main campaign points: Papandreou says Greece should see out the troika bailout and then create a reform plan of its own that Greeks would be able to vote on in a referendum. He says he is prepared to work with SYRIZA under certain circumstances but has ruled out cooperating with New Democracy as long as his former college roommate Antonis Samaras is in charge.

2012 election result: N/A

2014 EU election result: N/A

Party: To Potami

Founded: 2014

Leader: Stavros Theodorakis

History: To Potami (The River) was founded in March 2014 by journalist Stavros Theodorakis, known for presenting current affairs shows on Greek TV since the 1990s. Theodorakis said he was making the move due to people’s frustration with the traditional parties. He said that he wants the party to take the best of the policies from the left and the right. Positioned somewhere in the center of the political spectrum, Potami favors public sector reform and liberal economic policies. It gained more than 6 percent in May’s European Parliament elections and attracted candidates from various walks of life but with no background in Greek politics. Theodorakis said that he wants to keep the party free of politicians but has named a few candidates who have served as MPs before.

Main campaign points: Potami says it is willing to work with SYRIZA or New Democracy but will set certain conditions. The party says Greece’s position in the eurozone should not be put at risk but that different bailout terms, such as an easing of primary surplus targets, should be pursued.

2012 election result: N/A

2014 EU election result: N/A