Socialists win big in Greece

This seems to have gotten very little attention, but Greece changed governments last week. The ruling center-right New Democracy (ND) party called elections a couple of months ago, and the result was that — predictably — they got stomped hard.

ND had a wafer-thin majority of 152 seats out of 300; they lost 61 (!) seats, and are left with just 91. The rival Socialists jumped from 102 seats to 160, which will allow them to govern alone.

Two of the three minor parties — the Communists and the Radical Left — stayed about the same. The third minor party, the Popular Orthodox Rally, jumped from 10 seats to 15. That’s kind of depressing, because the Popular Orthodox guys are assholes. They’re your classic Balkan Obnoxious Populist-Nationalist Party; insofar as they have a platform, it’s “Hate Albanians and cut taxes”.

One thing I still don’t understand is why ND called this election. Yeah, narrow majority, economic crisis, blah blah. The ND government was only two years old; they could have clung to power another couple of years. They didn’t expect to lose this badly, of course, but the polls made it clear they were going to get kicked out of government. Can anyone shed light on this?

As for the new government: they say they’ll enact an economic stimulus package. Otherwise, from this distance they look pretty similar to the other guys. Again, more detail is welcome.

That said, it’s noteworthy to see a left/center left party win power in Europe these days. (And in a landslide, too.) That hasn’t been happening much lately.

Trivia: outgoing Prime Minister Karamanlis was the nephew of a previous Prime Minister, while incoming Prime Minister Papandreou was the son and grandson of previous Prime Ministers. I would say Greece needs a whosekidareyou site, but on the other hand probably not — it’s not exactly a secret.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Governments and parties and tagged by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

14 thoughts on “Socialists win big in Greece

  1. Karamanlis decided to call an election because the socialists had made clear that they wouldn’t back the re election of the incumbent President of Democracy. Karamnlis decided to leave before March 2010 when he would be forced to hold elections. And of course with the budget deficit propably exceeding 10% of GDP for 2009 he couldn’t draft a reliable budget or pass any kind of reform.

  2. Well, I wouldn’t say we haven’t seen much of centre/left winning in Europe – in the past year, we’ve had Greece, Portugal, Norway, Iceland, and Slovenia, and, if you wanna stretch the definition of centre/left, Montenegro.

  3. Doug, good question:
    Why does anyone hold elections that any 10year old will tell you are lost? The official explanation is that “because the opposition can force elections in 6 months, hence in the meanwhile there will be tension, populism and other stuff that are bad for the economy and the necessary structural(?) changes”
    This is a lot of bull. Not even 10-year old kids buy that. Furthermore, the government goes to election promising tough measures that will hurt people’s pockets without actually specifying any details on what these measures will be(apart from pay freezes) and with no guarantee that they will be effective.

    So why call the elections?
    More likely explanations:
    -“Better to lose now by 10%, than in 6 months by 20% or more”
    -“PM is tired and wants out, but he wants out as a whistleblower who advocated tough but needed reforms(but did not carry them out in 5,5 years)and not as a failure”

    It is true that the last government has been shown to be incompetent and untrustworthy.
    Papandreou is widely held to be a moron by the general population-(nicknamed “the kid”); the fact that he won is a real testament to the incompetence and corruption of the last government.

    The vast majority of greeks do resent the fact that 3 families(Mrs. Bakoyani, daughter of ex-PM Mitsotakis is projected to be the next ND leader and -eventually-probably PM); the only reason anyone really votes for karamanlis is because the alternative is Papandreou and vice versa. So the majority of the party members can dictate the PM to the rest of the country.

    Ari, I would not hold my breath. Even though (this) Papandreou has shown in the past that he is quite willing to sacrifice national interests for no compensation, Greece can hardly recognize Kossovo, because this goes against the very foundations(respect of international laws and accords-such as Helsinki) it invokes in many cases, such as Cyprus.

  4. Karamanlis resigned by calling the elections. I can think of two possible reasons: a) he found that it was impossible to govern anyway with only a one seat majority, or b) there’s an imminent financial or foreign affairs disaster that he wanted to avoid being associated with. Personally I think that a fresh and strong government is what Greece needed badly at this point of time. Also I wouldn’t worry about the right wing LAOS, now that ND is in opposition I expect them to shrink fast (much of their support comes from disenchanted ND supporters).

  5. The reports are accurate. They could only hang on for another 6 months; once the elections were called, it was clear that they were not going to win. What was not clear is how badly they were going to lose. But I guess, as pointed out, it may be better to lose by 10% than by 20% or more which is likely if they had waited another 6 months.

    I have no sympathy for the Popular Orthodox Rally ‘LAOS’, but ‘hate Albanians and lower taxes’ is an oversimplification. I should note that in a Balkan nationalism contest they’d lose hands-down to Erdogan, Gruevski or even Berisha. Their dream is probably a sort of joint government with ND and on this they represent a more ‘popular’ right wing version, basically the difference in economic policy is ‘don’t privatize everything’. On domestic policy it would be ‘you need to do something about illegal immigration and crime’-all their positions are much milder than, say Berlusconi.
    On foreign affairs, it is not ‘continue to occupy sovereign states’, like a certain Mr. Erdogan, but simply ‘defend national sovereigty’. Their positions are not extreme,
    whether by Balkan or EU standards. The people they have though are, or at least appear this way when they are shouting.

  6. Aris writes: “Greece can hardly recognize Kosovo, because this goes against the very foundations(respect of international laws and accords-such as Helsinki) it invokes in many cases, such as Cyprus.”

    Well, while I agree on the conclusion that recognition of a second Albanian state in the Balcans is not entirely compatible with current Greek interests I dont’agree with the premise. Neither does Greece refuse recognition because of international law nor is Greece anywhere near founded on respect of internation law or treaties. Ask the policemen at the Albanian-Greek border where those treaties end up when (ou this a good one) “computers break” during the commutes of emigrants and visitor to/from Albania. And I’m not even starting to mention minority and immigrant rights in Greece. In fact as far as rule of law and level of democratic development is concerned, Greece does not fare terribly better then current Albania. The politically self-regenerating sagas of the Mitsotakis and Papandreus families only being a sign.

    Anyway, I wish the new government will be somewhat less jingoist then the previous. But knowing something about Greek national identity I know that is just, well.. wishful thinking. Especially in times of economic hardships natinalism pays. The still marginal role of the Popular Orthodox Rally is easily explained by the already prevalent nationalistic curricula of the big parties. LAOS really had to be very creative to differentiate itself from the big and creativity is not exactly a strength of nationalists or extemists. But you know as they say, hope dies last. So let’s hope.

  7. Ari, policemen do not make foreign policy. I am not sure about what you are implying-at least I am completely unaware of any deliberate destruction of computer or other property by border police-, but my reply was on Kossovo only, and here I believe greeks have the same opinion: You cannot on the one hand invoke international law(as in the case of Cyprus or the turkish violations) and on the other hand break it by ignoring Helsinki and recognizing Kossovo. It makes one simply dishonest and we do believe we are being(in fact we do believe we have always been) straight in foreign affairs, despite whatever domestic problems. It would have been the same if Kossovo were an Albanian province with a Serb majority declaring independence. The same position was taken versus Abhazia and S.Ossetia. So Greece is being consistent here, and, I think , also consistent with international law. So, if you want, this is a ‘moral’ thing.
    As someone said before, the LAOS positions are not extreme compared either to Balkan or EU standards. It’s just that the people there come from extreme backgrounds and their leader has been quite successful in projecting a moderate profile. I really see nothing nationalistic about the big parties-this is completely off the wall. At the very least they could have set some obvious preconditions to the turkish accession talks, such as “no violation of airspace”,or “no harassing of civilian aviation”, which are
    just commonsense preconditions. They did not.
    I would see much more merit to allegations of “treason”(which I admit are extreme) than to “nationalism”-this is completely crazy.
    Even LAOS’s position on this is “if you have no demands, but the other side does, then any compromise will result in the other party gaining something for nothing-so have some demands”. Hardly an extreme nationalistic attitude!

  8. @Aris, in part you are also responding to @eni there but it seems like you are drawing from the general Greek policies and haven’t been looking as much at the details and hints from Greek foreign policy establishment on this particular event. Greece has recognized Republic of Kosovo passports and has not come officially and publicly against the independence. More than consistency in policy (i.e. the precedent argument, which with 60 countries recognizing, and many of them EU, does not hold any water anymore) Greece is looking for an opening so it’s relationship with Belgrade is not damaged too much. Now, Cyprus will probably stick to the end making sure that they clarify that Kosovo is a precedent for them (if so, a precedent here to stay, you silly Cyprus) but Lisbon will take care of that.

  9. @Ari, I will be very surprised if Greece recognizes Kosovo. The recognition of passports was a matter of convenience, not principle: there are a lot of Kosovar immigrants working in Greece.

    LAOS: what should I pay attention to, their formal platform (which is pretty skimpy) or their rhetoric (which is often quite extreme)?

    Doug M.

  10. Oh, look — it’s Dimitris “thank God all the Jews are gone!” Zafeiropoulous.

    Hm, and some Golden Dawn veterans too.

    “Moderates”, hm.

    Doug M.

  11. Pingback: Thursday Morning « the news links

  12. Doug,
    that’s the point:
    “It’s just that the people there come from extreme backgrounds”. In other words, the reason most people including myself, do not trust LAOS, is not their platform, nor their rhetoric(“I neither dance with the turkish PM, nor do I stand as best man at their kid’s weddings” does not look extreme to me, in fact most EU leaders do not do these things and given the LAOS leader’s weight, I’d rather he dont dance at all!), but the people they have gathered(as you said, including some ex Golden Dawn characters and other gem).
    At least that is my reasoning. On the other hand, it must be said that the LAOS leader (and perhaps some of the smarter people in the party) have been able to keep these guys on a tight leash. In fact he used to pride himself in previous elections as to how inclusive his ticket was, including jews and homosexuals and was actively courting a famous homosexual tv person in these elections for a position in the ticket(did not happen). And, as much as it hurts me to admit it, I should say that the LAOS party has achieved some good, for instance it has forced the other parties to recognize that *** they need a policy*** with respect to say illegal immigration. Not necessarily what LAOS wants(they talk about keeping people on the basis of needs of the country), but a welcome change form the “no policy”, “let everybody in with no clue as to what to do with them” that was the case till now.

    Ari, the reason for the Kossovo stand is not to avoid displeasing Belgrade(which did not have similar reservations about displeasing Athens):
    I agree that unlike Cyprus, Kossovo was not an issue of invasion, colonization and occupation by a foreign power. Cyprus is more like Sadam’s invasion of Kuwait. Nevertheless, the Helsinki 74 act is the one that guarantees borders, including Cyprus’, Greece’s and Albania’s. If one starts being nonchalant with it, then one should not object if others also start being nonchalant with it when it comes to YOUR borders.

  13. Please. LAOS just tries from time to time to spin its extreme-right profile (which in Greece is still associated with the 1967-74 dictatorship and is not very attractive). They have even sued a professor for calling them far-right in a lecture. All these things they occasionally say and do to appear tolerant are purely opportunistic and mean nothing. They are at their core an ulta-nationalist, far-right party and that’s that. From now on they will have competition in their rhetoric from members of ND. I think this is for the better, ultra-nationalists are kept at check in the major parties because they cannot afford to offend the centrists and moderates.

Comments are closed.