It’s the most important election in history tomorrow. It could destroy the Obama Presidency and stillbirth Hollande’s. It could bring about the economic collapse of Spain and the political destruction of the German Christian Democrats. It could, potentially, plunge the whole of Europe into an unprecendented recession.
Tomorrow, Greece goes to the polls, with the centre-right New Democracy Party on level pegging with SYRIZA, a motley crew of left-wing splinter groups. This isn’t David Cameron versus Respect. This is David Cameron versus an alliance between that weird bloke at Occupy who believes Ken Livingstone introduced the Oyster card to track his movements and that weirder bloke at a Stop the War protest wearing a black mask.
SYRIZA – a pun-tastic Greek acronym of its composite parties meaning ‘the roots’ – or the Coalition of the Radical Left started out as a smörgåsbord of parties of the left-wing fringe, a collection of Maoists, Trotskyites, Eurocommunists and radical ecologists.. To give you an idea of where SYRIZA stands: if Jenny Jones joined SYRIZA, she would be regarded as a dangerous revisionist. What you might call a ‘Bennite’, they would call a ‘dangerous enemy of the revolution’.
Prone to schism and division – some of SYRIZA’s founding entities are the splinters from splinter groups – SYRIZA would almost certainly have gone the way of every alliance of the variegated left that came before them, but they were in the right place at the right time. When George Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) got back into government in 2009 after a five year absence, they rejoiced at party headquarters, but it was an election that may well have destroyed PASOK as a governing party. The Hellenic model of ‘spend now, pay never’ exploded just as PASOK were taking office. First as the governing party, and then as part of a technocrat-led coalition, PASOK had to implement a program of screamingly unpopular cuts. New Democracy – the party of the right – was also badly damaged by its participation in the coalition, but it retained far more of its core. PASOK has gone from a perennial governing party of post-war Greece to a party that is consistently polling below 10%.
That leaves SYRIZA as the only left-wing entity still standing; as one pollster put it: “Public opinion isn’t in love with [SYRIZA}, it’s angry with the others.”. Unlike most European ecology parties, SYRIZA has no experience of government, even at a local level. Even the German Left Party has a moderate wing with an experience of and interest in government. SYRIZA does not. Even with the new fifty seat ‘plurality bonus’ that comes into play in this election – introduced in 2007, but with a grandfather clause that means that this will be the first time that it is used – it is likley that both New Democracy and SYRIZA will be unable to govern alone. After the May 2012 poll, Alexis Tsipiras, SYRIZA’s young leader, refused to form a coalition with any pro-austerity party, eschewing even an alliance with PASOK. Unless SYRIZA can achieve a majority by itself, which is highly unlikely, Tsipiras may be forced into a position he has never occupied in his entire political career: one of compromise.
The problem is, no-one knows for sure whether he can take SYRIZA with him. The son of a construction magnate, his only jobs have been within the party machinery, and he was gifted the leadership by his predecessor and mentor, Alekos Alvanos. It may be that his swift discovery – and even swifter abandonment – of moderate language after the May 2012 poll highlights the reality that he can’t deliver a reliable majority even if SYRIZA is given one at the polls. After his success in May, his party was overrun with new entrants – some from the familiar and schismatic far left, others from what one member of the outgoing government has termed ‘the coalition of the drachma’, a group determined to resist any or all reforms – and Tsipiras’ ability to lead them has never been put to the test.
Winning tomorrow will be the easy part. Governing may well be beyond him.
European Talking Points:
- So, you’ve just been elected President of France and your party is well on its way to a working Parliamentary majority. What could possibly go wrong? Well, your girlfriend could tweet her support for an independent candidate standing against your ex. “Good luck to Oliver Falorni,” tweeted new First Lady Valerie Trierwaller, of the man standing against Segolene Royal, “A man who has done nothing wrong, and works hard for the people of La Rochelle.”. Mme Trierwaller has been criticised by a number of Socialists for her Tweet, including the new Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
- What’s a guy like you doing in a place like that? That’s the question being directed at Jürgen Trittin, parliamentary leader of the German Greens, after he attended this year’s Bilderberg Conference. A former great hope of the party’s left flank, his former loyalists were left dismayed and angry by his visit to the gathering of the world’s power-brokers. Sven Giegold, a Green MEP, has supported Trittin’s decision to accept Bilderberg’s invitation. “One should always accept invitations,” Giegold opined, “As long as they are not from mass murderers, war criminals, right-wing extremists or anti-Semites.”
- You turn if you want to, Mario Monti’s not for turning. As Italy feels the effects of tax rises, spending cuts and economic stagnation, Italy’s economist-turned-Prime Minister issued a call for unity. His coalition – which has never quite been the same since the tussle over labour reforms in April – is looking distinctly worn around the edges. An election in early 2013 looks most likely. The question is, though, with all the major parties having supported Monti’s government, what would such an election look like?