William Theodorou, JHU:
In January, the Greek people cheered as their newly elected Prime Minister spoke of his intentions to end austerity and bring “dignity” back to his people. On August 20, 2015, only seven months into his heralded first term, he resigned. His resignation came after a summer riddled with administrative incompetency, a moot referendum, and capital controls that pushed his country over the precipice of disillusionment. As the leader of SYRIZA, he had promised the people “a way to hope,” characterized by governmental reform and change, but instead, the inconsistencies of his platform wrenched the will from the Greek people.
The first election of Alexis Tsipras was, to use his favorite word, a “mandate” from the Greek people. He told voters that he would end austerity measures while remaining in the Eurozone. At the time, the election represented the frustration of the Greek people with the current New Democracy administration and their irreconcilable hate of PASOK. SYRIZA’s rise was the effect of Greece attempting to engage in their political system and hold politicians responsible, but it was a delusion; the promises Tsipras made would prove impossible to keep, leading his people to question whether he underestimated or simply ignored the contradictory foundation of his campaign; he vowed to enact left wing reforms, while remaining within the confines of the EU’s conservative economic structure. With the benefit of the doubt, if Tsipras merely underestimated the desire of the EU to keep Greece within the Eurozone, he quickly realized he had no leverage to negotiate. This culminated in the July referendum that unequivocally voted down the newly proposed, third bailout agreement, but Tsipras voided the referendum by signing the bailout agreement and pushing through the Troika issued reforms in spite of the results and major opposition from his own party’s MP’s.
The acceptance of the bailout caused the snap elections last weekend. The bailout splintered Tsipras’ party, and the more radical, pro-Grexit MP’s of SYRIZA formed the Popular Unity party, led by former Minister of Energy, Panagiotis Lafazanis. Having lost the majority within Parliament, Tsipras resigned in an effort to consolidate his power, hoping his personal popularity would win him a reelection before the reforms of the bailout began to bite.
Despite Tsipras’ inability to deliver on any of his campaign promises, his reelection is not a surprise. His personal popularity, in a seemingly contradictory fashion, somehow stabilized following the announcement of the bailout. This may arise from the reopening of the bank and increased money flow, which softened the bite of capital control measures, as people were allowed to begin withdrawing larger sums of euros. Greece’s political landscape consists of only two political parties capable of gaining a majority, SYRIZA and New Democracy. Over the past month, both of these parties ran very similar campaigns, endorsing the bailout and positing better relations with Europe. So, with SYRIZA as the incumbent, voters were faced with the decision of either reelecting Tsipras or reverting back to the New Democracy, whose last administration was led by the highly unpopular Antonis Samaras.
The more surprising outcomes of the election concern two minor parties in Greece whose respective performances speak volumes about the minds of the Greek people. Prior to the election, analysts had believed that Popular Unity, the radical SYRIZA faction, would perform well because its MPs had campaigned against the incumbent party, preaching a Grexit as the only answer to Greece’s economic woes. Popular Unity fell short of the percentage threshold and received zero seats in parliament, revealing Greece’s desire, however reluctant, to remain in the Eurozone. The Golden Dawn, a nationalist party that has been identified as neo-Nazi, was the only party to see an increase in parliamentary seats even though it was nominal; Golden Dawn finished with the third highest percentage of votes at seven percent. It is to be expected that in a time of great distress, radical parties from both the left and right will emerge, but this party has lingered in Greece’s political sphere for decades, feeding off the people’s fears.
Without an alternative to the flippant government of Tsipras, SYRIZA won the snap-election with 36.3 percent of the vote, a meager portion of the population in light of a 56.6 percent turnout, Greece’s lowest ever. The country’s devastation reaches further than its economic woes. Greece has held general elections four times in four years, and turnout has steadily declined since the first legislative election of 2012. It is understandable that the Greek people have disenfranchised themselves; they are disenchanted. For years, the Greeks elected the same familial dynasties to office and idly watched as generations of thieves tore at the seams of the country they had sworn to better. January marked a turn for Greece. Her people made the decision to put a new, young face into power, handing Tsipras the last remnants of vigor and morale Greece could find within herself. His reelection is another “mandate.” One that espouses the indifference of a people whose spirit and determination have become passive.