ATHENS – With his New Democracy Conservatives locked in a tight duel with its major rival SYRIZA for this month’s critical elections for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament, the government’s fate could be in the showing of its coalition partner, the fading PASOK Socialists.
Greeks will go to the polls on May 18 to choose local leaders, and a week leader for their representatives as European Union lawmakers in Brussels.
Dueling polls essentially show New Democracy and its main rival, the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party deadlocked, but with PASOK as low as 5.5 percent even after aligning itself with a new center-left political movement called Elia, or Olive Tree.
PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos is serving as Samaras’ Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister after backing continued austerity measures the Socialists imposed in a previous government in return for international bailouts, a stance that has driven the once-dominant party to the edge of extinction.
While Samaras said he has taken Greece from near-oblivion and leaving the Eurozone and a looming recovery, voters aren’t buying it as much as are investors who jumped on the chance to make some big profits with a relatively high interest rate of 4.75 percent on the country’s first sovereign bond in four years, for three billion euros at a five years term.
“The euro crisis seems to be over but its causes have not withered away,” former Prime Minister Costas Simitis of PASOK, told the news agency Bloomberg in a piece that reported on his party’s fading fortunes and its withering ties to the New Democracy-led government.
“High unemployment and uncertainty fuel euro-skepticism, while member-states become increasingly reluctant to cede more power to European institutions,” he added, in a written response to questions.
New Democracy has 125 seats in the Parliament but needs PASOK’s 27 to have a razor-thin two-vote majority in the 300-member body although the government has gained a greater margin by arresting all of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party’s 18 deputies on charges of running a criminal gang.
The prospect of the 27 PASOK lawmakers withdrawing their support could deter foreign investors helping to fuel the recovery, according to Megan Greene, chief economist at Maverick Intelligence and a columnist with Bloomberg View.
“If there were snap elections and investors were spooked by the prospect of SYRIZA being the negotiator for Greece, it could really hurt the Greek recovery because it’s so fragile,” she told hew news agency.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said he believes the ruling parties will be repudiated in the elections and that it will force early national elections in which his party will come to power.
He opposes the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that came with two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) and which caused record unemployment and deep poverty.
If PASOK fares poorly, Venizelos could face a leadership challenge. If he’s ousted, he could lose his prominent positions in the government and take it down with him.
Frantic to stay in power although his party is already essentially irrelevant, Venizelos has warned that there would be no government without him.
“In these elections we will all be judged, both those that are in this room and those that aren’t,” Venizelos said in a May 9 speech to his lawmakers, taking a shot as his critics as well as the party’s former leader and previous premier George Papandreou, who won 44 percent of the vote in 2009 but resigned two years later after relentless protests, strikes and riots against austerity.
Papandreou has been distancing himself from those measures as well as from Venizelos, and said PASOK – the party founded four decades ago by his father and a former premier Andreas Papandreou – should not have tied itself to the Olive Tree.
In the May 10 Kapa Research survey for To Vima newspaper that saw PASOK fall to sixth place, SYRIZA led New Democracy by 23 percent to 21.7 percent. The pollster questioned 1,149 people between May 6 and May 9.
While the EU parliamentarians chosen in the vote will join negotiations over completing the European banking union and consider proposals for forging a political union, some of those campaigning are treating the election as a plebiscite on Samaras’ government, Antigone Lyberaki, an economics professor and candidate for the Drasi party, which supports Greece’s economic adjustment program, told Bloomberg.
“We’re treating these elections as if they were a super opinion poll for national elections,” Lyberaki said. “Reducing this to a choice between austerity and SYRIZA does a disservice to the guy in the street who’s in favor of Europe but has been brought to his knees by taxes.”