Alex Tsipras has won a surprisingly strong victory in the Greek elections. The opinion polls, that had predicted a close vote, were wide of the mark and Syriza comfortably led New Democracy (ND) by over 7%. They won 145 seats out of the 300—including the 50 ‘bonus’ seats for the largest party. This is less than Tsipras wanted, but only 4 seats down on the 149 Syriza won in January.
Tsipras has now renewed his coalition with the right wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks (ANEL) and together they have 155 seats. This is a majority of 10 and enough to reestablish the January government on a more right wing basis.
Tsipras is claiming a big victory and a new mandate to govern. It is, however, a pyrrhic victory. A mandate for what? It is a mandate to impose the same massive cuts agenda that Syriza was previously opposed to and which even the IMF have said will resolve nothing.
The smaller anti-austerity parties came nowhere. Popular Unity (PU) the new anti-austerity party split from Syriza over its capitulation to the austerity agenda won only 2.86% and failed to win any seats—which is clearly a major setback (The threshold for Parliamentary representation is 3%). This was despite endorsement resistance hero Manolis Glezos, Zoe Konstantopoulou and (at the last minute) Varoufakis, all significant figures from the previous Syriza administration. Before the election PU had 25 seats, all defectors from Syriza, and were the third largest parliamentary party.
Antarsya stood independently of course. They formed a joint list with the EEK, a small sectarian organisation with links to an ex-Morenist current based in Latin America. The joint Antarsya-EEK list won 0.85% a small increase on the 0.64% vote for the joint Antartsya-MARS list in January but way short of the threshold for seats. The KKE got the same vote share and number of seats in parliament.
Sectarianism and division on the left struck again of course, since the combined vote of PU and Antartsya-MARS would have broken the 3% barrier and produced MPs in Parliament.
The pro-austerity parties did not make gains either. ND won almost the same number of seats and votes as in January. Among the other parliamentary parties there was also little change, Golden Dawn marginally increased its vote and will be the third largest party in parliament. The joint list of PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR—a right wing split from Syriza) came in next and stemmed the decline in PASOK (helped by the decision of PASOK splinter Kidiso not to stand), they went from13 seats for PASOK only to 17 seats combined. The bourgeois liberal To Potami (the River) party declined but is still represented in parliament. A right wing party, the Union of Centrists (EK), broke the 3% barrier for the first time and will have 9 MPs.
The big change compared to the January election was the turnout—only 55%. Many of those most affected by the economic crisis, including young people, were weary of the process and did not vote. Most previously anti-austerity voters could not see an alternative to what Tsipras was proposing, and PU were not able to convince them at this stage that they had one.
The people of Greece have clearly decided to give Tsipras another chance. Many might think that they would prefer austerity to be imposed on them by Syriza than by ND. Others just want to see some bailout money coming to Greece. Tsipras had told them that austerity under him would be less harsh that under a right-wing government, and that he might be able to find a way of mitigating some things. Such claims are not new of course. Social democratic parties and governments have been saying this for many years and have always ended up as the vehicle for austerity and not the mitigaters of austerity.
What determines the situation in Greece is not that Syriza might be able to introduce austerity in a slightly better way but that it has abandoned the struggle against it and is backing the Troika. That Tsipras is better placed to impose the Memorandum than a ND government would be.
The terms attached to the bailout deal accepted by Tsipras are draconian in the extreme. They include swinging VAT increases, public sector wage cuts, pension ‘reform’, draconian welfare cuts and extensive privatisation. It hands the fiscal policy of the country over to the Troika. It gives the power to sell off Greece’s public assets, including ports and airports and energy supply, to a foreign agency that is empowered to pass on the proceeds to its creditors. It abolishes the economic sovereignty of Greece and reduces the country to dependency status. It is like reparations imposed on a defeated people.
It is a deal that will be closely (even minutely) monitored by the Troika. Day in and day out they will be demanding the full implementation of the recessionary deal. Pension cuts, wage cut, welfare cuts and all the rest of it. The only thing this is likely to produce is more misery and suffering.
The PU had no alternative but to split from Syriza when Tsipras went to the polls in support of the Memorandum. Despite its failure in this snap election the PU carries forward the best traditions of the struggle against austerity in Greece. This debacle was not a failure of the concept of a Syriza-type party to fight against austerity. It was a failure of the leadership of Syriza at a crucial stage of the struggle.
Exactly when and how new struggles will emerge as Syriza imposes the austerity agenda is hard to tell, but the future of the PU is likely to be determined by the role it plays in that. For us in Britain the task remains the same to generate and organise maximum solidarity with the people of Greece as this new phase of the struggle opens up.