ATHENS – Despite what appeared to be a likely victory of some 3 percent in the European Parliament elections for the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the ruling New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the margin isn’t enough to force early national polls.
While SYRIZA claimed an overwhelming win – it was historic, at least, the first for a far-left party – and repudiation of the coalition that includes the PASOK Socialists, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told ANT1 TV that what was an apparent protest vote was insignificant.
Citizens’ vote in the European Parliament elections “is traditionally a loose one, a vote of protest which usually is in favor of the opposition,” he said, the Athens News Agency (ANA-MPA) reported. Kedikoglou also ruled out the possibility of early elections, which was the stated goal of SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
SYRIZA rode the back of its opposition to harsh austerity measures the government imposed on the orders of international lenders and initial results showed it would win 27-30 percent of the vote.
The Leftists’ spokesman, spokesman Panos Skourletis, speaking to ANA-MPA, said the early signs presaged “a great victory for SYRIZA, of historic dimensions, that will speed up historic developments”.
Skourletis said that “provided that the picture being shaped by the exit poll is confirmed … for the first time SYRIZA, a party of the Left, is emerging as the first force. The map of the political forces, in essence, as we had seen it in the previous decades, has definitely changed. We must wait until later tonight to see what the real picture will be”.
Skourletis also said that the present government cannot handle or negotiate issues with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), including debt relief that Samaras said he would pursue. “It now lacks this political legitimacy,” Skourletis added.
Still, the margin was likely not the knockout blow needed to force early elections. But if the results hold up it would be an historic moment in Greece with a far-left party triumphing, albeit in a contest to send the country’s representatives, with the allocation based on the findings of the parties.
Tsipras had been hoping for a margin big enough to bring down the government he blames for imposing harsh austerity measures on the orders of international lenders, including the ouster of embattled PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who tied the Socialists to the new center-left political alliance Elia, Olive Tree, that was running fourth or fifth, with 7-9 percent.
Another surprise was the strong showing of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that was third, with about 10 percent, although all its 18 Members of Parliament have been arrested or jailed while awaiting trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
The KKE Communists, largely invisible in the campaign, were in a close battle with another new political movement, the populist To Potami, which slipped after being as third in pre-election surveys.
The Independent Greeks were polling poorly while the Democratic Left (DIMAR), which left the coalition last year after refusing to go along with the firing of all 2,653 workers at the now-defunct national broadcaster ERT, were last at about 1.5 percent, far below the 3 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament in the next national elections.
The balloting came at the same time as a second-round runoff for Greek municipalities, including the important mayoral races in Athens and Piraeus, but the most closely-watched results dealt with the European Parliament.
Tsipras said that if SYRIZA ever comes to power that he would seek to revise the terms of 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in two bailouts from the Troika or default on the debt, sending shivers through leaders of the EU and the Eurozone, the 18 countries that use the euro as a currency.
SYRIZA finished a strong second in the 2012 national elections won by New Democracy, which didn’t have enough of the vote to control a majority of Parliament and had to bring in PASOK and DIMAR.
Tsipras had been hoping for a margin big enough to bring down the government he blames for imposing harsh austerity measures on the orders of international lenders, including the ouster of the embattled Venizelos.
Until PASOK from 2010-11, and an interim government, followed by coalition in June of 2012 began hitting Greeks with austerity the governments said were necessary to save the country from itself, SYRIZA had been a marginal party. Its opposition to the devastating measures saw it rise quickly.
Samaras warned that SYRIZA would plunge the country back into chaos just as he said he had put it on the road to recovery and brought political stability.
But he couldn’t convince enough Greeks that the big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings he implemented on demand of the Troika was the only way out of a crisis.
That had been caused largely by the ruling parties taking turns for four decades with wild overspending and runaway patronage that bankrupted the country.
Samaras had argued the EU polls shouldn’t be a referendum on his government, especially since he said Greece had reached a primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros and last month floated a 3-billion-euro bond, the first since a previous PASOK government in 2010 first reached out for a bailout with the economy on the precipice of disaster.