Why a repeat election is likely in Greece

Pro-austerity, pro-euro politicians will get nowhere in Greece without the support of the Democratic Left.

To match Interview GREECE-VENIZELOS/
Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos could build a coalition with the Democratic Left [REUTERS]

Athens, Greece –
Greek political parties today began a third and final attempt to form a government. Coalition talks have so far foundered, however, on the fact that Sunday’s election gave equal seats in parliament to pro-austerity and anti-austerity forces.  

The mandate to form a government now goes to the pro-austerity socialists. They can count on support from their erstwhile coalition partners, the conservatives. Both want Greece to stay in the euro, to endure further, massive budget cuts next month and to repay its loans to the European Union. But they no longer have the power to govern. They need the support of the small but moderate Democratic Left.

That party is under intense pressure from the radical left SYRIZA to deny support to the mainstream parties and lead the country to another election. SYRIZA has been the main beneficiary of the most recent election, quadrupling its standing to 16.78 per cent of the vote by denouncing the bailout and promising to reverse budget cuts, renege on loan repayment and re-audit the debt. While voters are in flux, they hope for further gains.

Fotis Kouvelis, Democratic Left leader, has said he would neither participate in a government that did not include SYRIZA, nor accept the poisoned chalice of a consensus premiership.

There are four main likely scenarios in the following 72 hours. The most optimistic is that socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos succeeds in including the Democratic Left and wins a vote of confidence. Together, the socialist Pasok, conservative New Democracy and Democratic Left would wield 168 seats in the 300 seat legislature, a comfortable outright majority.  

National unity?

More realistically, Venizelos might not succeed in winning over the Democratic Left, but persuade them to abstain from the vote of confidence. Confidence motions are calculated as an absolute majority of the MPs present, so the absence of two or more MPs automatically allows the coalition of Pasok and New Democracy to vote themselves in, even though they do not have an absolute majority of seats.

It is even possible, though unlikely, that Venizelos and conservative leader Antonis Samaras might engage in guerrilla tactics to convince MPs to disobey their party leaders and to abstain from the vote of confidence, achieving the same result.

However, the most likely scenario is that Venizelos will neither persuade Kouvelis to actively back his coalition, nor to benignly neglect to show up for a vote of confidence, as either way Kouvelis stands to be accused of betraying the left – poised to make history in a repeat election.

There are major disincentives for Venizelos and Samaras to try and govern with 149 MPs. They would be accused of a constitutional coup for the sole purpose of putting through 12 billion euros’ ($15.5 billion) worth of budget cuts in June, and social unrest outside parliament – as well as uproariousness inside – would be likely. New Democracy and Pasok would lose MPs and voters as precipitously as before. Finally, they would help to achieve what the left never managed, its unification around SYRIZA, and the strengthening of SYRIZA’s hand in an inevitable repeat election.

The fourth and final scenario is therefore likely, that Venizelos fails to win over the Democratic Left, and fails or chooses not to secure its absence in a vote of confidence. Greece’s aloof president, Karolos Papoulias, would then convene the party leaders in a last-ditch effort at a national unity government. Failing that, Greece will hold another election in June.

John Psaropoulos is an independent journalist based in Athens and reports regularly for Al Jazeera. His blog is The New Athenian.

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