Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A guide to the 2015 Greek election results

Previous posts on Greece

Greece's snap election took place on the 25th of January, and the result was a change of government. The New Democracy-PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) coalition government was defeated, and was replaced by a SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition government. What this will mean for Greece's economic future is still unclear: however, the election itself has proved to be an interesting contest.

Details of the election

The result of the election is below. All parties that held seats before dissolution or won seats are listed below. Seat changes are calculated on the basis of the seat distribution on the 6th of January.
Greek election results (click on picture for larger size). Note: Seat change will not add up to zero, as the Independent Democratic Group of MPs did not contest the election. Democratic Left total is total for Democratic Left-Green coalition.
The above graph is not strictly in order, as the Democratic Socialist Movement and Democratic Left are seperated by four parties, but this is not really relevant.

As I have explained before, Greece uses a system of bonus-adjusted proportional representation. Votes are cast for parties, and the party with the most votes is awarded 50 seats. The remaining 250 seats are distributed amongst parties with over 3% of the vote using proportional representation. This usually means that the largest party has enough of an advantage in terms of seats to form government.

If the 50 seat bonus were abolished and all 300 seats were distributed through proportional representation, SYRIZA and Independent Greeks would have just 135 seats; not enough for a majority.

The state of the parties

SYRIZA: The last five years have seen a meteoric rise for SYRIZA. From just 6 parliamentary seats in 2004, the party has grown to nearly have an overall majority in Greece's parliament. However, such a meteoric rise could possibly lead to a dramatic collapse of support if SYRIZA fail to properly implement their promises. The possibility of such a collapse must worry Alexis Tsipras somewhat. However, SYRIZA managed to harness anti-austerity sentiment extremely well, and they managed to win government despite a small original support base.

New Democracy: Being viewed as the 'party of austerity' has cost the New Democracy party dearly. While 2015 was not their worst performance (that honour belongs to their result in May 2012, when they won just 19% of the vote), it is a poor result for a party that until 2009 had never fallen below 35% of the vote in its history. However, they have managed to keep control of the centre-right vote, which their centre-left counterpart PASOK failed to do. They are also in a strong position to return to government if SYRIZA falls over.

Golden Dawn: This party, one of the few European parliamentary parties deserving of the title 'neo-Nazi', has received a lot of international media attention. However, their performance in this election was rather poor, and it appears that they have hit the ceiling. This is a good thing for Greece; along with the Communists, Golden Dawn were refusing to negotiate with any other party to form government, and Greece does not need more obstructionist MPs. This is not to mention their extremist stances on racial issues.

To Potami: This liberal centrist party has performed extremely well in this election, especially considering the poor performances of liberal parties in Greece during the recession. This may be due to the anti-corruption image of leader and TV journalist Stavros Theodokrais, a factor lacking for other recession liberal groups. To Potami was a possible government coalition partner for SYRIZA, but was rejected.

Communist Party: Despite doing nothing at all for the entire recession (other than writing snarky rants on their English-language website), the Communist Party managed to make a fractional gain. This may be a bounce-back after their unusually poor performance in late 2012; nonetheless, the Communists have lost significant support to SYRIZA during the recession, perhaps as a backlash against the Communist Party's refusal to enter government with, well, anyone.

Independent Greeks: The right-wing soft nationalist anti-austerity Independent Greeks party performed poorly in this election. After a promising start in May 2012, when they won 10% of the vote, the party lost support in the June election, and lost support again in 2015. However, they will be in government, after SYRIZA decided to enter into a coalition with them, in a move that perhaps signals a more Eurosceptic stance of the new government. 

PASOK: Poor old PASOK. Once one of Greece's most powerful parties, this centre-left party has fallen to being the least popular party in the Greek parliament. Most of the party's leftist credentials have disappeared after their coalition with New Democracy. A stint in opposition will allow them to rebuild those credentials, and perhaps return to power at some later stage if SYRIZA fails. 

The others: The Democratic Socialist Movement, which was formed by former PASOK Prime Minister George Papandreou, failed to pass the threshold by 0.5%. This is somewhat historic for Greece; the Papandreous have provided three prime ministers for PASOK. The little parties didn't do very well, other than a relatively good result for the Union of Centrists (a hangover from the 1960s). Democratic Left, a centre-left party who entered the government in 2012 but left in protest against the closure of the national broadcaster, collapsed, winning only 0.49% in coalition with the Greens. This is even worse considering that the Greens won 0.5% of the vote at the European elections in 2014.

Possible changes to Greece's electoral law

SYRIZA have previously indicated a desire to change Greece's electoral system to pure proportional representation, abolishing the 3% threshold and the 50 seat bonus. Such a system would give the following results.

New Democracy-85
Golden Dawn-19
To Potami-18
Communist Party-17
Independent Greeks-14
Democratic Socialist Movement-7
Union of Centrists-5
Teleia (centre-left social democrats)-5
Popular Orthodox Rally (right-wing nationalist)-3
Anticapitalist Left-2
Democratic Left/Greens-1

While government formation would be complicated, it would be possible. However, the extreme fragmentation that this system would cause may mean that SYRIZA will need little encouragement to put this idea on the shelf.

It is still unclear what SYRIZA will do for Greece in the long term. However, it seems that the government will be relatively stable in the short term.


  1. Henry- All your analysis on this subject are far superior than any journalist. You could be a valuable addition to a political think tank. Well done!

  2. I concur with Tim!

    Didn't the Greens endorse the Syriza list? Or was that a different 'green' party?

    I doubt Syriza will abolish the electoral system that brought them to power, and even if they do they will need to win the next election too in order to block any reversal, as electoral system amendments are only applied at the election after next unless 2/3 of MPs back it. Now, Greece already has used PR in the past, in '89-'90, when, if I am not mistaken, an outgoing government adopted it to hinder the opposition (the 2/3 rule must not have existed yet). The result was considerable instability, with three elections in two years. I am speculating here but I have a feeling that, partly as a result of this experience, the Greek public would not be too friendly to the idea of PR. Personally, I can't disagree, particularly considering the extreme fragmentation that occurred (under the current system) in the 2012a vote and the current polarisation, already including two deeply anti-democratic parties. Greece is already looking like Weimar in many ways, and PR would only make it more so. - JD

    1. Thanks, JD. The Greek political ecologist movement is a tangled web. The Green party that endorsed SYRIZA is the Ecologist Greens (the ones that nearly got over the threshold in early 2012). The Green party backing Democratic Left is called the Greens, and seems more centrist than the Ecologist Greens. A third Green party, Europe-Ecology, backed To Potami. Rather disappointingly, the Greek Ecologists, led by nudist Dimosthenis Vergis, didn't field a list.

      Any change to the electoral system is unlikely. It is true to say that when electoral systems are concerned, those with the will to increase proportionality don't have the power, while those with the power don't have the will. I can't see the Greek public or government supporting pure PR, not during an economic crisis.


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