There aren’t many silver linings in being forced to hold two legislative elections in as many months, while your country is running out of money, mired in near-depression economic conditions and suffering from budget cuts that have torn apart the country’s social contract.
But perhaps one of the best things that can come of the June 17 elections — regardless of whether the pro-bailout center-right New Democracy or the anti-bailout radical left SYRIZA wins — is the chance that the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party will fare significantly poorer this time around.
Among other things, reduced support for Golden Dawn would significantly facilitate the arithmetic of forming a government.
The high-profile implosion of the party’s spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris — an arrest warrant was issued for Kasidiaris after he threw water at one female parliamentary candidate yesterday and repeated slapped another on a live television talk show — does not bode well for the party’s chances:
The exchanges came when the discussion turned to the sensitive topic of the Greek Civil War (1946-1949).When Kasidiaris called [Communist MP Liana] Kanelli an “old Commie”, she retorted that he was a “fascist”. Kasidiaris also was incensed that SYRIZA’s Rena Dourou mentioned a pending court case against him.When Dourou said that there was a “crisis of democracy when people who will take the country back 500 years have got into the parliament”, Kasidiaris, who has served in the army’s special forces, picked up a glass of water and hurled its contents at her.“You joke,” he shouted.He then turned on Kanelli, who had got up out of her chair and appeared to throw a newspaper at him.He slapped Kanelli three times on the side of the face.
The Kasidiaris distraction follows a ridiculous post-election press conference in May when Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, the party’s leader, launched into a neo-nazi screed after the party’s thugs tried to force journalists to stand at attention.
Golden Dawn thrives on these confrontational moments to attract attention. But even if you think that these kinds of outbursts are deliberate, it’s a sign of Golden Dawn’s weakness that it is staging these moments to suck away media attention from the main parties just 10 days before the election.
In the May elections, Golden Dawn won 6.97% of the vote and 21 seats. Parties will win seats in the parliament, on the basis of proportional representation, if they can draw more than 3% of the vote.
Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, met individually with Mihaloliakos during the coalition talks following the May elections, but no party was willing to enter into a governing coalition or even willing to be propped up informally with Golden Dawn support.
Accordingly, it left a pool of just 279 seats from which to form a 150-seat majority.
It goes without saying that a reduced vote for Golden Dawn is good for all sorts of reasons — the party’s presence in the Hellenic parliament is an embarrassment to Greece and to Europe, its strength a dangerous bellwether of the rise of extreme politics in Europe’s periphery.
But strategically, the worse that Golden Dawn performs, the more of those 21 seats will go to other parties, presumably putting them in play for a potential governing coalition. It’s difficult to overstate how reducing — or eliminating — Golden Dawn’s presence in the parliament is the key to unlocking such a coalition.
In May, the most likely potential pro-bailout coalition, New Democracy and PASOK, fell just two seats short of a one-seat majority. Having 21 seats “off limits” for a coalition made a crucial difference in those discussions. (It’s true, however, that you can argue the same thing about Aleka Papariga, the leader of the KKE, Greece’s Communist Party, who has repeatedly refused to join SYRIZA and other anti-bailout parties in a coalition — the KKE won 7.54% in May and 26 seats, all of which would also presumably be “off limits” for a SYRIZA-led coalition if, indeed, SYRIZA finished first on June 17).
This time around, Golden Dawn is polling at less than 7% — the most recent Public Issue poll puts it at just 4.5% and other polls have shown it garnering even less support — in some cases, less than the 3% threshold for entering parliament.
That’s not dispositive, though — it was polling a bit less than 7% before the May vote, too. But given all of the negative publicity, it seems more likely than not that Golden Dawn will have crested in May.