Far Left Wins Greek Election, Wants to End Austerity

A party that promises to renege on Greece’s bailout commitments wins the parliamentary election.

Building of the Greek parliament in Athens, September 8, 2009
Building of the Greek parliament in Athens, September 8, 2009 (Kirk Siang)
  • The far-left Syriza party has won 149 seats in the Greek parliament, two shy of a majority.
  • Outgoing prime minister Antonis Samaras has conceded defeat.
  • Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras will be tasked with forming the next government. Possible coalition partners include the centrist To Potami and the right-wing Independent Greeks.
  • Tsipras said the Greek people had “written history.” He told supporters in Athens, “We are regaining our dignity, our sovereignty again.”
  • Leftists across Europe have welcomed Syriza’s victory.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20155:14 PM

The far-left Syriza party was on track to win Greece’s parliamentary election on Sunday night, preliminary results showed.

The victory for a party that promises to renege on Greece’s bailout commitments puts the Balkan state on a collision course with the rest of Europe. Northern European leaders had warned in the days leading up to the vote that they would not accept the writeoffs in Greece’s debts Syriza advocates.

With most of the votes counted Sunday night, Syriza was at 36.3 percent support. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party came in second with 27.8 percent.

Because the biggest party gets a fifty-seat bonus in the legislature, Syriza would win 149 seats, according to an Interior Ministry projection, two short of an absolute majority.

Assuming party leader Alexis Tsipras can find a coalition partner, he would be the first government leader in the eurozone that is openly opposed to the austerity measures and economic reforms countries in the currency bloc have pursued since the sovereign debt crisis began in 2008.

Possible coalition parties included the Communists, who got fifteen seats, the right-wing Independent Greeks, who got thirteen, and a new centrist party, To Potami, that was projected to win seventeen seats, sharing third place with the fascist Golden Dawn.

Elections were triggered when Samaras failed to win a supermajority in parliament for his presidential candidate in December.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20155:42 PM

To understand how Germany looks at Syriza’s demands and popularity, read our earlier coverage: “Greek Euro Exit ‘Almost Inevitable’ If Left Wins Election” and “Going into Election, Greece on Collision Course with Germany.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20156:19 PM

The fascist Golden Dawn party could come in third, according to the exit poll, even as nine of its sixteen lawmakers are currently held in jail on charges of extortion and weapons possession. The new pro-European party To Potami might just beat Golden Dawn into fourth place.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20156:25 PM

According to the Kappa polling bureau, Syriza would win between 148 and 154 seats. The Communists would get between fifteen and seventeen, guaranteeing a far-left majority.

New Democracy would struggle to win more than eighty seats. Pasok, Greece’s once-dominant social democrat party, would win only twelve to fourteen seats, according to Kappa.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20156:40 PM

Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta argued before the election that a Syriza victory would make Greece the “testing ground” for future eurozone policies. If it obtained substantial concessions on debt and economic reform, other struggling countries in the single currency union, such as Italy, Portugal and Spain, “would come knocking” and demand the same treatment, he warned. That makes all the less likely Germany and its allies will relent if Tsipras presses his demands.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20157:03 PM

With 14 percent of the votes counted, Metron Analysis polling forecasts 150 seats for Syriza, one short of a majority.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20157:26 PM

With a fifth of the votes counted, Syriza is leading with 35.3 percent support. New Democracy is second with 29.1 percent. Golden Dawn has pulled ahead of To Potami and is in third place with 6.3 percent.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20157:52 PM

German officials have called on Greece to honor the terms of its bailouts. Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann told ARD television, “I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved.” Philipp Mißfelder, the foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s christian democrat group in parliament, said, “I think Syriza shouldn’t expect Germany to renegotiate with the programs. They have to stick with what the former government has promised.”

Greece committed to budget consolidation and structural economic reforms in exchange for €240 billion in financial support from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund since 2010. It has repeatedly missed its targets and deadlines for both. Syriza wants to reverse the program altogether.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20157:59 PM

With almost a third of the votes counted, Syriza is projected to win 147 seats, four short of a majority. It could probably form a coalition with the Communists or the Independent Greeks. The latter are a right-wing party but share Syriza’s opposition to austerity.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20158:21 PM

An official from Singular Logic, the company that processes the election results for the Interior Ministry, told Reuters Syriza would get between 149 and 151 seats. The firm is officially projecting 150 seats but there is a .5 percentage point margin of error.

“We have a thriller over the outright majority,” the official said.

The Interior Ministry projection showed former prime minister George Papandreou’s new left-wing party failing to cross the 3 percent election threshold which would raise Syriza’s chances of winning a simple majority.

Papandreou, formerly of Pasok, was prime minister at the time Greece’s debt crisis began in 2009. He stepped down two years later to make way for government of technocrats.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20159:01 PM

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras conceded defeat. During a news conference, he said his government had made mistakes but he insisted it set Greece on a course out of the crisis. He also pointed out New Democracy had only lost two percentage points compared to the last election.

With more half of the votes counted, Syriza is projected to win 148 seats, three short of a majority.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20159:21 PM

If Syriza fails to win a majority of its own, Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel thinks a coalition with the Communists is unlikely. Rather, the party could try to form a government with the centrist To Potami or the right-wing Independent Greeks.

Both would be problematic. To Potami shares Syriza’s desire for less austerity and a higher minimum wage but it is “strictly in favor of sticking to the country’s European commitments,” according to Ruparel.

The Independent Greeks are not but the rest of their platform is reactionary. It would be difficult for Syriza leader Tsipras to form a government with a party that is socially conservative and wants to curtail immigration.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20159:28 PM

In a victory speech at Athens University, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said, “The memorandums of austerity and destruction, the troika is in the past.”

The “troika” refers to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund which jointly administer Greece’s bailout.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20159:35 PM

Tsipras said the Greek people had “written history” today. “Those who have been defeated are the elite and oligarchs. We are regaining our dignity, our sovereignty again.”

The left-wing leader also predicted Syriza’s victory would resonate in other countries. “The austerity period is over,” he said. “Europe will change.”

In a television interview, Dimitris Papadimoulis, a lawmaker for Syriza, was even more explicit. “The vote is a ‘no’ to unilateral austerity, a ‘no’ to a Europe that they tried to turn into Merkel’s punching bag,” he said.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 20159:40 PM

As early as tomorrow, President Karolos Papoulias will ask Tsipras, as the leader of the largest party, to form a government. He will have three days to try. If he fails, the mandate passes to the leader of the second party — New Democracy.

However, the only way a government can be formed without Syriza would be for all other parties, including the Communists and Golden Dawn, to form a coalition against it. That seems extremely unlikely.

If Tsipras does succeed, his government would face a confidence vote within fifteen days.

If no government can be formed, Papoulias will likely appoint a caretaker government until new elections can be called. This last happened after the inconclusive election of May 2012.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens January 25, 201511:33 PM

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reports that leftwingers across Europe have hailed Syriza’s victory.

Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos said Greece finally had a government rather than a German envoy. Britain’s Green Party said Syriza’s victory was an inspiration.

But in its editorial, the newspaper cautioned against far-left optimism, pointing to Greece’s uniquely dire situation.

Other Syrizas are not likely to succeed without something close to the economic and political conditions that apply in Greece. Few other European countries fit that bill.

Nevertheless, the paper argued that Sunday’s election result had “destroyed the post-recessionary political norms and assumptions of Greece and shaken those of the European Union to the core as well.” It urged Germany to “listen to the message from the south” and soften the “fiscal rectitude that caused the Greek political earthquake in the first place.”