Amid the tsunami of national populism which took over the country last summer, 38.5 percent of Greek voters resisted and voted in favor of common sense and national self-preservation. We now know that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wanted the figure to be higher, but he was unable to tame his communication charisma and Greek citizens’ fury. In any case, that percentage was by no means negligible, nor did it represent an uncertain section of the public. It took a lot of cool-headedness and decisiveness to go against the flow at the time.
The 38.5 percent comprised all sorts of voters, ranging from pro-European leftists through to highly conservative pro-European rightists. There were no extreme rightists, because, strangely enough, they were tied through an invisible thread to extreme leftists who wished to see Greece exit Europe and walk an imaginary, independent road alone.
Now that 38.5 percent is in search of political expression as well as a leader. What brings it together is a despair of observing the country’s potential caged. There is little driving it apart, especially at a time when ideological dividing lines are increasingly blurred. There were times when former PM Antonis Samaras appeared capable of expressing it through the development of a pro-European front. Eventually, however, intervention by the usual partisan suspects led to the effort being undermined.
Newly elected New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has the right profile for a politician who could carry out such a mission. Tsipras is currently trapped: On the one hand he is trying to manage the country’s bailout obligations, while on the other he is resorting to extreme action, such as with the Skouries mining project, in an effort to please his leftist audience. The premier is in danger of losing it, just like his predecessor Samaras when the latter decided to “tear up the memorandum.” Tsipras of course is bound to play all his cards and has proven himself to be a strong player. Mantras will include “the new vs the old” and the issue of vested interests and corruption.
Society is at boiling point and will not be calmed down with fireworks and flares. Those who voted “no” in the referendum are also angry now and looking for a way to let off some steam. If the era of bailouts ends up proving anything at all, it will be that lies and exaggeration have a hefty price. “No” voters don’t see what difference it would have made had they voted “yes.” So here is an absolutely conscious 38.5 percent and a lot of angry “no” people.
This dynamic could lead this figure to a new government majority. There is no rush. Tsipras has undertaken the responsibility of keeping the country on a European track and cracking a few crucial issues, such as social security. This comes first. If he stumbles, the 38.5 percent and the politicians who express it will no doubt back him to avoid a disaster.