Left Could Take Over in Greece After Failed Presidential Vote

Parliament’s failure to elect a new head of state triggers early elections the far left could win.

Lawmakers in Greece failed to elect a new president on Monday, triggering snap elections for parliament that polls predict the far-left Syriza party could win.

Syriza wants to tear up Greece’s bailout agreements, stop budget consolidation and write off part of the country’s debt. It also opposes the liberal economic reforms that have been enacted under pressure from other European Union countries.

Recent surveys show Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party narrowing the gap with Syriza but it still trails by around three points.

Samaras dismissed the left’s plans to roll back austerity and renegotiate Greece’s multibillion euro bailout agreements as a “joke” on Saturday.

The repercussions could be anything but. Although Greece is due to exit its bailout program and return to market financing, a far-left election victory would likely revive concerns about the country making good on its commitments, possibly forcing it to turn to other European countries and the International Monetary Fund for help once again.

Syriza rejects such concerns as scaremongering. Party leader Alexis Tsipras insisted this weekend that his victory would mark “the start of a great national effort to save society and restore Greece.” He added that Greece had an “historical responsibility” to lead Europe away “from a neoliberal experiment” and toward “a model of social protection and growth.”

The pace of liberalization in Greece has underwhelmed most other European countries which have coughed up two bailouts worth €240 billion in total for it since 2010.

After years of contraction, the Greek economy started growing again this year. A quarter of Greeks is still out of work but the unemployment rate has been coming down since the middle of last year.

Syriza, the opposition Communists and the fascist Golden Dawn party command almost a third of the seats in parliament between them, giving them the power to block the government’s presidential candidate in the first two voting rounds.

Samaras had tried to persuade moderate opposition parties to back the former European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas for the largely ceremonial post of head of state in the third and last voting round on Monday. He even offered to bring them into the government in exchange for their support. The Democratic Left, which quit the government last year, and the right-wing Independent Greeks nevertheless voted Dimas down.

The left-right coalition government only has a five-seat majority and needed at least 25 more lawmakers to stave off elections.

Pasok, the ruling socialist party that used to dominate Greek politics together with New Democracy, is down to 5 percent in the polls. Some give it even less support than the Communists.