News | Political Parties / Election Analyses - Western Europe - Greece A Bitter Defeat for Tsipras

European elections prompt snap parliamentary elections in Greece

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras speaking at the European Parliament. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Foto: European Parliament / flickr

People grew increasingly apprehensive in left-wing social networks mere hours after the first electoral returns were announced. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras rushed to a meeting at party headquarters, and the first rumours began to emerge: the gap between the governing Syriza party and the conservative opposition Nea Dimokratia (ND) could end up being significantly over five percent and in ND’s favour. Should this be the case, Tsipras would (have to) clear the way for snap parliamentary elections.

Tense hours between hope and despair followed until the first official results. Would opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis really relegate Syriza to second place with such a big lead? How would the other left-wing parties perform? And not least: would the fascist Golden Dawn party profit from the general rightward drift and the nationalist polarization in the Macedonia question to become the third-strongest force?

The nearly ten-percent gap between ND (33.3) and Syriza (23.7) ended up exceeding the last prognoses. Although Syriza only performed three percent worse than the 2014 EU elections, the result is nevertheless a bitter defeat for Tsipras’s government. He himself had labelled the European elections a vote of confidence in his policies—and failed. In recent weeks and months Syriza tried to win back voters’ trust with a number of economic and social policy measures to turn the polls in a positive direction. It did not work. In his speech held late that evening, Tsipras responded to calls for his resignation and stated that the president would ask for immediate snap elections after the municipal run-off election scheduled for next Sunday, 2 June 2019. These will probably be held at the end of the month.

Preliminary Results

Municipal and Regional Elections

An assessment of the nationwide results will take some time. But what is already clear is that Syriza took slight losses in the municipal and regional elections—the Left’s lack of regional and municipal roots made the result expectable, as there was little to lose in the first place. The losses in Attica are relevant. The ultra-conservative Giorgos Patoulis (ND), chairman of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) and a political friend of former CDU State Secretary Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, took the lead in the first round of voting with 37.5 percent, clearly ahead previous Syriza governor Rena Dourou (19.96 percent). The runoff election this coming Sunday will confirm Patoulis’s victory. A respectable result was scored by vice-minister of labour Nassos Illiopoulos in the traditionally conservative centre of Athens. As Syriza’s mayoral candidate he managed to take second place behind Kostas Bakoyannis, the son of Mistotaki’s sister Dora Bakoyannis, albeit with a gap of 24 percentage points.

EU Elections

Nea Dimokratia improved its result by ten percent compared to 2014, the Movement for Change (KINAL), formerly PASOK, took third place with 7.5 percent and thus avoided a feared total collapse. They could serve as Nea Demokratia’s coalition partner after the parliamentary elections if the party is unable to govern alone. Syriza abolished the 50+ additional parliamentary seats traditionally ascribed to the winner, but the law will only take effect after the next parliamentary elections.

The Communist Party, KKE, lost slightly and took fourth place with 5.3 percent, barely ahead of the Nazis of the Golden Dawn. Their result was cut in half, from 9.39 percent in 2014 to 4.8 percent. That is at least good news. But the Christian-nationalist Greek Solution (Elliniki Lisi) founded in 2016 won slightly over four percent. The right-populist ANEL, Syriza’s former coalition partner, collapsed to less than 0.5 percent and is thereby eliminated politically.

DiEM25 managed, contrary to expectations, to pass the three percent threshold—Yanis Varoufakis declared “the beginning of the end of the crisis” on election night. Sofia Sakorafa will enter the EU parliament for DiEM25. She joined parliament in 2014 for Syriza, but then left the party and exercised her mandate as an independent.

The Syriza split Laiki Enotita (Popular Unity) led by Lafazanis (0.58 percent) and Plefsi Eleftherias (Course of Freedom) led by Zoe Konstantopoulou (1.63 percent) failed spectacularly to cross the three percent threshold along with the Anti-Capitalist Left Front, ANTARSYA (0.68 percent).

The Greek Left will thus be represented by seven seats in the GUE/NGL (six Syriza, one DiEM25), nearly as strong as in 2014. On the whole the balance of forces in the EU parliament has tilted to the right. As far as the next Greek parliament is concerned, the situation appears similar. Tsipras declared war on the neoliberal forces gathered around Nea Dimokratia and the far right and argued for a progressive alliance to lead the country out of the austerity of recent years with economic and social policy measures, particularly with view to the middle class. The majorities and partners for such a progressive front are lacking at the moment—KINAL has already tied itself closely to ND, and cooperation between Tsipras and Varoufakis is almost entirely out of the question. The Left in Greece thus remains a powerful but divided force. The conservative Mitsotakis on the other hand seems to be able to win a majority with a radically neoliberal platform—although he boldly announced the expansion of the working day to up to seven days a week and cuts to the welfare state.

Following election night the Greek Left is now confronted with what is at stake in the coming elections. Despite subjugating itself to the dictates of the EU and largely implementing the memorandums, Syriza also accomplished some positive things: access to health care for all, reintroducing industry-wide contracts, raising the minimum wage, equality for same-sex couples, and more. These measures will all also be at stake in the next vote.

There is still hope that this realization will work its way into the conscience of the broader electorate in the coming weeks. A government under Mitsotakis not only threatens a return to the old paternalism of the great political dynasties, but also strict neoliberal economic and social policies, further restrictions to asylum law, and bolstered anti-migration measures.

Maria Oshana is the director of the RLS Office in Greece. Translation by Loren Balhorn.