Tom King, BA Politics
Syriza has topped the polls in Greece’s snap election to oust the conservative New Democracy government from power.
The far left party have pledged to end “the humiliation of austerity” which was imposed as part of a Eurozone bailout agreement. The International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank deal has seen huge public spending cuts, economic reforms and privatisation that have wiped 25% off the country’s GDP since 2009. Youth unemployment stands at 50%.
The alliance of socialists, greens, Maoists, Marxists and euro-communists which make up Syriza secured 36% and 149 seats – two short of an outright majority – with New Democracy trailing by eight points at 29.8% of the vote and 76 MPs. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn competed with newly formed centrist party To Potami (The River) for third placing, both winning 6% of the vote. Pasok, the centre-left party – the sister to the UK Labour Party – which had formed a government in 2009 with 44% of the vote, won a dismal 4.6% of all votes cast.
Short of the 151 seats needed for an absolute parliamentary majority, Syriza has agreed a coalition with the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks.
The new government is now likely to clash with the European Union as it seeks to renegotiate the terms of its €240bn bailout package and many of the country’s creditors fear Athens will now demand a partial debt write-off. Former New Democracy Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has repeatedly warned Syriza’s tough negotiating plans could lead to Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. Germany has indicated it believes the 19-member single currency could withstand a so-called “Grexit”.
Amongst those elected to the Greek parliament was SOAS academic Costas Lapavitsas, who now sits as the member for Nauso. He says the party will pursue “a Keynesian program with redistribution attached, with some Marxist view of the world” as it tries to kick-start economic growth and undo the social damage caused by austerity. Lapavitsas is just one of the professors turned politicians that make up Syriza’s ranks including Yanis Varoufakis who has become Finance Minister.
Until recently a minor party, the Syriza government will now seek to boost pensions and the minimum wage, introduce subsidies for food and electricity for the poorest households and cut taxes for low earners.
Speaking after the result, Greek Prime Minister and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said, “Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.”