PASOK gets post-Venizelos polling bounce

In the wake of anointing former Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos as its new leader, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), or “PASOK” (ΠΑΣΟΚ in Greek) has received a small, but noticeable, bounce in the latest polls in advance of this spring’s legislative elections.

PASOK receives 15.5% to 22.5% for the traditionally center-right New Democracy party (Νέα Δημοκρατία).

Meanwhile, the KKE (Greece’s Communist party) would win 12%, SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) would win another 12.5%, and the new DIMAR (Democratic Left) would also win 12%.  A new anti-austerity right-wing party, the Independent Greeks, would win 8.5%.

LAOS (the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally) would take just 2%, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn takes 5% and the Ecologist Green party takes 3%.

Both of Venizelos and ND leader Antonis Samaras had nearly identical 30% favorability and 30% unfavorability ratings.  Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the Democratic Left, remained the most popular of the leaders with just over 50% favorability.

It’s shaping up as an odd election in that the traditional parties of the right (ND) and the left (PASOK) have converged in their positions — ND presided over the initial 2008 global financial crisis and PASOK presided over the onset of the 2010 sovereign debt crisis and subsequent waves of budget cuts, notwithstanding its traditional character as a socialist party.

As such, and especially following the appointment of Lucas Papademos as interim prime minister in November 2011 with the support of both ND and PASOK, both parties are pregnant with supporting the harsh austerity terms that have conditioned Greece’s recent bailouts:

[Translated from the original Greek]: In other words, the two (former) major parties in power have come so close by ideological (neoliberal) view and policy (co-ruling) practice, they now appear as “one flesh.”

Most commentators assume that the ND will win the elections with a minority or in a more formal ‘grand’ coalition with PASOK, thereby making permanent the informal coalition cobbled together to appoint Papademos.  Together, PASOK and the ND — the “bailout” parties — win just 38% of the vote.

The remaining parties are a disparate lot — the KKE is Greece’s oldest existing political party and remains more radical than the other two.

SYRIZA, which sprang out of the KKE amid the post-Soviet turmoil in Europe’s communist left, is eager to form a non-PASOK leftist coalition, but Kouvelis has insisted that DIMAR is more interested in a coalition with PASOK.  Alexis Tsipras, the 38-year-old SYRIZA leader, is most vigorous in promoting a pan-leftist coalition.

DIMAR itself emerged in 2010 from what used to be the moderate wing of SYRIZA, and as noted, would prefer a coalition with PASOK rather than with SYRIZA.  Both are pro-EU, but would look for a more gentle solution to Greece’s sovereign debt crisis than the current budget cuts, which have resulted in significant social, economic and political unrest across Greece.

The three groups and the Ecological Greens are competing separately, however, and are not currently pursuing a formal coalition, either together or with PASOK.  But taken together, they currently poll 39.5% — if they banded together in a “third way” leftist coalition, it seems likely that they could win a bare majority.

The Independent Greeks, which emerged earlier this year from the ND, has little in common with the non-PASOK left groups (other than its anti-austerity flavor).  But if you add them to an “anti-bailout” (or at least “anti-austerity”) coalition, their cumulative support would skyrocket to 48%.

The impetus for forming a coalition, however, is amplified under the Greek election process As reconfigured under a new 2007 law, the electoral process features a built-in advantage for the first-place party.

Of the 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament, 250 will be awarded on the basis of proportional representation (only if the national tally, however, exceeds 3% of the total vote).  The leading party, however, will be automatically awarded 50 seats.  So if ND wins the election with 55% of the vote or even just 20% of the vote, it will be entitled to the first-past-the-post bonus of 50 seats.

The 2007 law (note that the 2012 elections are the first in which the new law will apply), increased the “premium” from 40 seats to 50 seats; generally, under the new law, a party would need just 39% of the vote to form a majority government.  Before the 2007 law, a party would generally need between 40% and 41%.

As such, the likeliest scenario would seem to be that the ND wins the election, takes the 50-seat bonus and forms a minority government (or a formal grand coalition with PASOK).

But a month is a long time in politics — and if the non-PASOK left banded together in a formal electoral coalition, the latest polling data seem to bear out an opportunity for a more stridently leftist government to emerge.

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