The pre-election polls in the short campaign leading up to this important national election were remarkably consistent–it would be a very close battle between the current governing Syriza party and the party they had ousted in January, New Democracy. It was a toss-up as to who would come out on top and the likely result would be a fractured parliament with no clear mandate and no clear path to a parliamentary majority.
The polls were dead wrong. Tsipras and Syriza achieved a clear victory, with a comfortable 7.5% margin over New Democracy. Under the Greek electoral system in which the winning party is awarded a bonus of 50 seats in the Parliament, Syriza very nearly garnered an outright majority, needing only to ally with its previous junior coalition partner Independent Greeks to summon a majority.
So there will be no post-election chaos, no need for long drawn-out negotiations among various factions, and no need for new elections.
How did the party that brought the country to the brink of disaster in its dealings with the European Union, that brought about a run on the banks and capital controls, and which ultimately made an abrupt about-face in agreeing to harsh bailout terms that it had previously rejected categorically–how did this party manage to get re-elected comfortably?
I think the answer can only be the personality of Alexis Tsipras, an earnest young man with a ready smile who you just can’t help but feel is a really good guy. I think my friend Dimitri hit the nail on the head when explaining the Greeks’ support of Tsipras: “Greeks love a ‘Glorious Defeat’ and Tsipras gave them exactly that.” It is a long tradition in Greek history, Dimitri explained, and the Greek people greatly respected their earnest young leader for standing up to the powers-that-be of the European Union even if it was ultimately–and inevitably–a losing battle. He fought the good fight–the Greeks were outmanned and outgunned, but they went down honorably under Tsipras’s leadership.
Dimitri’s analysis rings true for me and is echoed in many of the man-on-the-street interviews in the press here. After all, what is the biggest patriotic holiday in Greece? Not Independence Day, but Oxi Day, when the Greeks proudly told Mussolini to stuff it, eventually leading to a disastrous German invasion and catastrophic occupation.
A few other observations from the election results:
- The Neo-Fascist Golden Dawn garnered a frighteningly high number of votes, with their roughly 7% putting them in third place. After a period in which the Fascist party appeared to be receding from the scene, this support is truly troubling.
- The Popular Unity party formed from the hard-left, anti-bailout faction of Syriza fared miserably, apparently under the 3% necessary to get a spot in Parliament.
- By far the biggest vote-getter was “No One,” with a record 55% abstention rate. Given a population that is obsessively engaged with politics on a daily basis, this is perhaps the biggest story of the election. The Greek people may have finally gotten burned out on politics after several intense years of it.
- The centrist To Potami party, which was heralded by some of the intellectual elite as a possible alternative to the more ideologically oriented parties, failed poorly with only 4% of the vote.
A Greek newspaper had a cartoon the other day in which Tsipras wakes up in a fright, telling his wife he had a terrible nightmare. “I dreamt I got re-elected!”
For better or worse, the earnest young man with the big smile’s dream/nightmare came true. I hope he can survive the challenges to come.