Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is Europe's far-right heading for power? Part 2-Greece

Following the most recent elections for the European parliament, many stories have been written about a 'far-right surge' in Europe. However, many of these claims appear to have been overstated, and some of the parties that have been alleged to have put in a good performance actually did not poll especially well, or poll in a way that stands to affect the long-term future of Europe or its countries.


Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party first entered parliament in the May 2012 national elections, after spending many years on the political sidelines. I am not here to dispute the status of this party as far-right, and it is probably second only to the German National Democrats as the most far-right party in the European Parliament. Members of the party have made many controversial statemnents in the past surrounding Nazi Germany, and the group's logo, well, resembles a swatstika.
The party's entry to the European Parliament was certainly noticed by the international media. However, the party's result (9.5% of the vote) was consistent with what opinion polls had been showing the party at.

In fact, the Greek European elections were very significant, but not really for Golden Dawn. The main contest of the election was between the governing centre-right New Democracy party, and the radical left-wing SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left). The election was widely regarded as a test of public confidence in the Greek recovery and economic direction.

The collapse of Greece's financial system during the Global Financial Crisis sent an earthquake through the nation's political system. At the first post-crisis election in 2012, the two traditional parties of Greek government, New Democracy and the Panhellinic Socialist Movement (PASOK) , won just 32% of the vote combined, down from 77% of the vote at the last election. PASOK fell the furthest, from 43% of the vote in 2009 to just 13% in May 2012.

Most of the PASOK vote was taken up by SYRIZA, a coalition of radical-leftist parties formed in 2004. The predecessor party Synaspismós (Coalition of the Progressive Left) was formed in the late 1980s. The group was marginalised in the 2000s, winning an average of 4% of the vote, and coming behind the far-right LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) and the KKE (Communist Party of Greece)

Interestingly, neither the KKE or LAOS benefited much in July 2012. LAOS had become discredited after it voted with PASOK in favour of the bailout. Much of the LAOS electorate moved to Golden Dawn. The KKE are still irrelevant. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the majority of ex-communist parties opted to modernise, accept the world order, and move on. KKE didn't do that, instead opting to hide under some coats and pretend that Joseph Stalin was still in control and that the Soviet Union was alive and well. They hate SYRIZA almost as much as they hate PASOK or New Democracy, they produce long and rambling communiques about topics that nobody cares about (in English!), and they refuse to participate in government. All in all, they aren't worth listening to.

Three new parties benefited from the collapse of the majors. The largest was Independent Greeks (ANEL), a split-off from New Democracy. They are a conservative, soft-nationalist, soft-Eurosceptic, anti-austerity party: sort of Golden Dawn Lite. A smaller group, Democratic Left (DIMAR), which split off from SYRIZA, is a centre-left pro-European party. Democratic Left claim to represent the centre-left ground between PASOK and SYRIZA. They are mildly anti-austerity, but they participate in a pro-austerity government, unlike SYRIZA. And then, there is Golden Dawn.

Golden Dawn are by no means new. The foundations were laid by the early 1980s, and the group stayed as an alliance of far-right thugs until 1993, when it was formally registered as a political party. It first ran in an election in 1994, winning 0.1% of the votes for the European Parliament. The party won 0.07% in the 1996 general election. The group put in a decent performance in the European elections in 1999, winning 0.75% in alliance with the far-right First Line party. The party won 0.3% in the 2009 election; at that point, they were still irrelevant.

However, the financial crisis breathed new life into the party. The party's relations with radical street gangs turned out to be an advantage, as these gangs were able to peform a kind of 'Robin Hood' role in standing up for the 'underdog' (as long as the underdog isn't a socialist, homosexual, an immigrant, or someone whose great-great-great-great grandfather wasn't authentically Greek). This positioning is in line with most other European far-right parties (socially conservative, but economically leftist). The party's lack of participation in govenment meant that they were a 'fresh face' for Greece, and their previous irrelevance fit in with Greece's anti-politican mood.

This positioning allowed Golden Dawn to enter parliament in July 2012. They won 7% of the vote, and 21 seats in the 300 member Greek Parliament. Their strong result, as well as strong results for other anti-austerity parties, meant that another election had to take place in June.

In the June elections, held after no government could be formed, the results were quite different. New Democracy won 29.7% of the vote, a gain of about 10%. SYRIZA won 27% of the vote: again, a gain of about 10%. PASOK fell to 12%, while ANEL's vote dropped 3% to 7%. Golden Dawn lost 0.05% of the vote and 3 seats, while DIMAR's vote went up fractionally (0.14%) but the party actually lost two seats. The Communists lost 4% of the vote and 14 seats. The extra-parliamentary parties generally lost votes, with the liberal Bridges alliance (a coalition of the centrist Action, Liberal Alliance and Recreate Greece parties), the Ecologist Greens, and the Popular Orthodox Rally, which all came close to the 3% threshold in May, losing votes.

The results were roughly in line with what had been expected. The election became polarised around the contest between SYRIZA and New Democracy, with all other parties losing out. However, the performances by Golden Dawn and DIMAR were unexpected. Golden Dawn might have been expected to lose out, given the increased profile given to its more extreme members (in one unfortunate incident, a Golden Dawn spokesperson physically assualted a leftist politician on live television.) However, they did okay. DIMAR, too, might have been expected to be squeezed by the New Democracy-SYRIZA contest, but they held their ground, and entered government.

The Actual European Election

The European election, held in May 2014 in conjunction with some local elections, saw a similar cast of parties. There were only two differences. PASOK had teamed up with a number of tiny irrelevant centre-left parties to form Elia (The Olive Tree). This appears to be more of a disguise for PASOK than an actual coalition of equals. However, this did not stop the party arguing over it, with former Prime Minister George Papendreou criticising the alliance (Admittedly, this criticism did come from a man who presided over the most disastrous election in the party's history).

The other new party was formed just before the European elections. It is called The River, and was founded by journalist Stavros Theodokrais. The party is socially liberal and socially democratic, but has vague policies, and trades heavily off the popularity of its leader. It is a member of the centre-left European Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Along with this, there was the usual cast of irrelevant single-issue parties that come out at the European election.

Other then that, one might expect the election to result in a higher vote for protest parties, given that there was no need to elect a government. Adding to this, opinion polling had consistently shown that Golden Dawn was going to be Greece's third party.

So, what did the results look like? Well, they were good for SYRIZA, although somewhat underwhelming, as some within the party expected that the party would win 30% (which some polls had shown them at). Instead, they won 26.6%, about 4 points ahead of New Democracy. Golden Dawn managed 9.4% and third place, while Elia came fourth, with 8%. The River came fifth, with 6.6% of the vote. The Communists got 6.1%, while ANEL got just 3.5%.

The result was okay for Elia/PASOK. While 8% is by no means good, it is above the dismal polls for the party. Golden Dawn performed more or less about their polled numbers, while ND polled slightly below (Bear in mind that these are general election polls). DIMAR collapsed, with just 1.2% of the vote and no Members of the European Parliament.

But what does this mean for the governability of Greece? Well, in Greece, the electoral system is nationwide proportional representation, but with a 50 seat bonus for the largest party. Taking that into account, the results would be as below.
So, what would this mean for the future of Greece? Well, the current New Democracy-PASOK government would have only 113 seats, 38 seats short of a majority. SYRIZA would have to become part of government, as SYRIZA+Golden Dawn+KKE is equal to a majority. A SYRIZA-PASOK government would have a narrow majority of 154, while a SYRIZA-River coalition would have exactly 150 seats. Not an ideal scenario for stable government. However, the dreaded 'negative majority', where the two parties that will not participate in government (Golden Dawn and the Communists) win 151 seats, would not happen.

In fact, Golden Dawn has burned too many bridges to enter government. The closest party in terms of ideology is ANEL, and they are a party in decline. The chances of Golden Dawn having any serious input on government is highly unlikely, and the boost they have recieved by the recession is likely to disappear in any serious recovery, leaving them where they started.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Editor reserves the right to delete any comments on grounds including, but not limited to, irrelevant, offensive and threatening.