Greek elections: turn to the left while New Democracy loses support and PASOK suffers major setback

Both major parties suffered electoral setbacks in the recent elections. The government party, the ND, and the opposition PASOK lost out while the two major left forces, the Communist Party and the SYRIZA gained significantly, underlining the sharp swing to the left that is taking place in Greek society.

The results of the Greek parliamentary elections were a clear expression of the shift to the left in society and of the sharpening of social polarisation. The right-wing government party, "New Democracy" (ND), lost 3.53% compared to the previous elections, receiving 41.84%, down from 45.37% in 2004.

The total number of votes that the ND received in these elections was 3,067,952 compared to 3,353,295 in 2004. This was the biggest fall in the last 26 years in percentage terms for a party that has been in government for only one legislature.

The decline of ND was much bigger in the large towns of Greece. In the region of Athens ND lost 4.3%, in Piraeus 4%, in Thessalonica 6%, in Patras 4%. These results are a confirmation of the strong anti-government mood that exists in society.

However, PASOK was undoubtedly the big loser of the elections. PASOK lost 2.45% compared to 2004, falling from 40.55% in the previous elections to 38.10% today. This is the first time in Greece that we have witnessed this phenomenon, where the second largest party in parliament loses support in spite of the fact that the government party is in crisis and is also losing support.

In percentage terms this was the lowest level of support in the history of PASOK since 1977! In the big towns the PASOK lost percentages that would expect normally of a party that is in government! In Athens and in Piraeus it lost 5% compared to 2004, in Thessalonica 2.5% and in Patras 2%.

Andreas Papandreou
Giorgos Papandreou

The main reason for this result was the further shift to the right on the part of the PASOK leadership - particularly after the death of the founder of PASOK Andreas Papandreou in the mid 90's. After the PASOK had been in government for eight years, under Kostas Simitis (1996-2004), carrying out "neo-liberal" policies, the son of the founder of the party, Giorgos Papandreou, continued in opposition to support the same policies, embracing and even more openly pro-capitalist programme, with emphasis on "strengthening Greek enterprises".

The real winners of these elections were the left parties, the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and SYRIZA (electoral alliance based on "Synaspismos"). The KKE received 597,607 votes and SYRIZA received 369,562. The KKE increased its level of support to 8.15% from the 5.89% it had in 2004 and SYRIZA grew from 3.26% to 5.04%.

The most interesting result is the level of the increase in support for the Left in the big towns. In the second region of Athens (region B, the biggest electoral district in the country and with the largest working class presence), for the fist time since the fall of the colonel's dictatorship in 1974, the Left received a total of 21.04% (KKE 12.1 and SYRIZA 8.94) up from 13.5 in 2004, only 13 percentage points behind the PASOK.

In Pireaus the Left took a total of 21% (KKE 14.5, SYRIZA 6.42) up from 15% in 2004. In Thessalonica it took 16.5% (KKE 10.31, SYRIZA 6.11) up from 11% in 2004. And in Patras it took 12.1% (KKE 7.2, SYRIZA 4.7) up from 8,1%.

KKE rally
KKE rally 

This is the first time since 1974 that the non-PASOK Left will have 36 members of parliament, 22 KKE and 14 SYRIZA. The opinion polls carried out just after the elections revealed also that the Left received the majority of its new votes from the youth, especially from the young University students and the young workers. This is the political reflection of the big student movement that shook the government earlier this year as well as the militant strikes of some sections of workers, with the young workers in the vanguard (schoolteachers, bank workers, sailors, dockworkers, municipal workers, textile workers, etc).

The second winner of the election was the extreme right wing LAOS (Popular Orthodox Party) led by the reactionary Giorgos Karatzaferis. LAOS increased its votes from 2.2% in 2004 to 3.79% and now it has parliamentary representation with 10 MPs. Similarly to what happened on the left, the party of this ex- ND populist cadre Karatzaferis recievd higher percentages in the big towns (Athens 5.5%, Thessalonica 6.5%, Pireaus 6.5%.) This is an expression of the sharpening of class polarisation within Greek society, but it is also not by accident that the main issues raised in the demagogic electoral campaign of LAOS were not the usual attacks on immigrants, but unemployment, poverty and the parasitic role of the banks. This also underlines - although in a distorted manner - the fact that the main mood swing among the voters was in actual fact to the left.

Stormy events in PASOK

Just after the results had been announced Giorgos Papandreou announced that he will seek an immediate referendum within the rank and file of the party where he will ask for a new period in the leadership of the party. But this time Papandreou will no longer be the sole candidate.

Evangelos Venizelos
Evangelos Venizelos

Evangelos Venizelos, is an ex- minister in the Simitis government, a leading cadre of the party and a good speaker, something which Giorgos Papandreu is not. He has no left-wing background, his roots being in the 1980's bourgeois sect KODISO. This man has announced that he will also be candidate for chairman of the party.

Venizelos is the "favourite child" of some big editorial companies and some owners of private TV Channels, which means he represents that minority section of the big bourgeois that traditionally have supported the right-wing leaders of the PASOK.

Throughout all the period of the Papandreou leadership Venizelos has never opposed any element of his right-wing policies. What he is raising now is the need for the "ideological reconstruction of PASOK", but the only "solution" that he can offer to the rank and file of PASOK - apart from some left rhetoric - is to develop a new "media tactic" to better promote this same old pro-capitalist, neo-liberal policies of the PASOK leadership.

In the internal party elections that they will take place over the next few weeks there will be no left candidate. The absence of an organised left wing in the party is the decisive question that will determine the immediate future of the party. This left vacuum in the leadership is confusing and disappointing the workers of the rank and file of the party. It will delay the recovery of the party and it will provide many opportunities for further growth of the Left parties, KKE and SYRIZA, in the next period. Inevitably, at some stage in the future, under the pressure of the class struggle, this vacuum in the PASOK will be filled. However, because of the very sharp turn to the right on the part of the PASOK leadership throughout the whole of the recent period, it is not possible at this stage to foresee either the tempo or the manner in which this will take place.

A weak ND government strengthens the position of the labour movement

Kostas Karamanlis and George W Bush
Kostas Karamanlis and George W Bush

After the elections the Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis stated that his new government will be more effective and that he feels he now has a more "stable" and "stronger" position. In reality the only reason why he can claim to feel strong is the political collapse of the PASOK leadership. The number of ND MPs in the Greek parliament has been reduced from 165 to 152, out of a total of 300 seats.

This is important, for it reveals how the parliamentary position of Karamanlis is not at all comfortable. He had promised the Greek bourgeoisie that in this new period he would tackle the "hot" issues of social security "reform", the total flexibilisation of labour and the total privatisation of both state-owned enterprises and state education.

The problem is that over the past three and a half years this government failed to pass all these measures when it had 165 MPs and also failed to take advantage of a degree of popularity it had when it was first elected. How they will manage to get all this passed in the coming period, just after its Waterloo over the forest fires this summer (see Fires expose the real nature of “New Democracy” government), after all the big scandals and now after a decisive fall in its electoral support is anyone's guess.

There is another important factor in the equation that makes everything more difficult for this government now. The workers and youth have gained more self-confidence after the electoral success of the left parties. In reality the only factor that saved the government from an absolute electoral disaster was the fact that the Greek economy has continued to grow (4.6% at the second quarter of this year). It is a growth that does not offer much to the workers: some jobs that are very badly paid, part-time and temporary work, combined with a growing mountain of debt that has allowed a certain consumer "boom". This goes hand in hand with growing pressures in the workplaces, in effect a "joyless boom". In the coming period even this kind of boom is destined to slow down.

This explains why the mood in society is changing rapidly and the direction of this change is clearly to the left. This is the real explanation for what happened in these elections.

However, the electoral defeats of the bourgeois and of the right-wing reformists and the increasing vote for the Left are only an indication of what is possible; they are not at all a solution. All this can change the psychology of the classes but for a decisive change in society what we need is a clear revolutionary programme and the unity of the working class around that programme.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the KKE - although in these elections they put forward many correct demands for the improvement of the working and living conditions of ordinary working people - has not adopted a full-blooded socialist programme and at the same time promotes tactics that divide the workers' movement. Even worse is the leadership of SYRIZA that has adopted a very soft left reformist policy, and makes no reference to a socialist society. An important section of its leadership in fact dreams of being part of a pro-capitalist coalition government in alliance with the PASOK, like the Prodi government in Italy.

Activists on the left in Greece have only one road they can follow and that is the struggle for a clear socialist programme, for the class unity of the workers in the struggle against capitalism. This is the vital struggle to which the Greek Marxist Tendency and its paper "Marxistiki Foni" are dedicated.

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