Samaras pieces together coalition after ND places first in Greek election

The rest of the eurozone — indeed, the rest of the world — may have breathed a sigh of relief Sunday when it turned out that the pro-bailout parties appeared likely to secure a majority of the seats in the second of two highly divisive parliamentary elections in Greece.

As shown above, New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) has won the largest share of votes, taking with it the 50-seat “bonus” in the Hellenic parliament.  It is now very likely to form a coalition with the pro-bailout PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), and possibly even with the Democratic Left (Δημοκρατική Αριστερά), according to reports of the latest coalition talks.  New Democracy’s leader Antonis will likely be Greece’s new prime minister, with the only question being whether PASOK and Democratic Left figures will take positions in the government or merely provide support to the coalition.

Samaras is allegedly favoring the appointment of Vassilis Rapanos, the president of National Bank, as finance minister.

Athens News has a full blog of Tuesday’s coalition talk developments.

In the meanwhile, here’s a look at where each of the main political actors stand in the fallout of Sunday’s vote, looking onward to what should still be a hot, wearisome summer for Greece and its position in the eurozone:

New Democracy.  Much of the support Samaras’s party earned on Sunday comes from moderate leftists who worried that SYRIZA’s election would cause an immediate eurozone crisis.  Samaras himself remains an unpopular and polarizing figure in Greek politics.  He represents no rupture from the past — he was finance minister and foreign minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s and his uncle was a longtime Greek MP in the 1960s and 1970s.

As it turns out, though, Samaras’s position during the June campaign had moved ever closer to that of SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς).  Samaras has conceded that he will attempt to renegotiate the austerity program required by the terms of the second bailout provided by the ‘troika’ of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

In contrast to SYRIZA, however, European leaders seem willing to work with Samaras to achieve a solution that keeps Greece in the eurozone, so the first priority for the ND-led government will be putting together a team to negotiate the further implementation of Greece’s bailout program.  Whatever happens going forward — with austerity, unemployment, recession, reform, default, or even a full-fledged exit from the eurozone — will be owned by New Democracy. So politically speaking, Sunday’s victory may well have been a Pyrrhic one.

PASOK.  There are no real bright spots for PASOK and its leader Evangelos Venizelos, who is unlikely to return as finance minister in the new coalition — Venizelos is angling for PASOK to take no ministerial roles in the likely coalition government, limiting its exposure to a government that will take a lot of tough decisions in the months (and possibly years) ahead.

PASOK lost about 1% and eight more seats between the May and June elections, crushed on one side by the pro-bailout ND and on the other by the anti-austerity left.  Venizelos will now watch his once-proud socialist party join as junior partner to a coalition dedicated to implementing harsh budget cuts.  If the future is fraught with peril for New Democracy, it seems downright awful for PASOK.

SYRIZA.  Alexis Tsipras is indisputably the winner of both elections in terms of momentum.  SYRIZA gained nearly as much (10%) support between May and June as New Democracy (11%).  The young, brash Tsipras represents not only the face of the anti-austerity forces, but that of a new generation and a new party unsullied by the corruption and inadequacy that has marked Greek government in the past four decades under New Democracy and PASOK.  In keeping with his strident line of renegotiating the memorandum of understanding between Greece and the ‘troika,’ he has pulled even the pro-bailout parties closer to his position.  In coming a very close second to New Democracy, he will be delighted to mount a spirited opposition.  He will also have an opportunity to solidify SYRIZA’s political gains, consolidate the anti-bailout left and mount a challenge for power in the next election, which I bet will take place within months, not years.

Democratic LeftFotis Kouvelis, in both May and June, was consistently ranked Greece’s most popular party leader, but his party — originally a splinter group of moderates from SYRIZA in 2010 — did neither markedly better or worse in June.  Kouvelis seems inclined to join a unity coalition with New Democracy and PASOK, which will give the governing coalition more stability and credibility.  As with PASOK, though, the Democratic Left’s support of the pro-bailout government will also mean that it will take its share of the misery blamed on the government.  To the extent that Kouvelis and Tspiras had vied to become the face of the anti-austerity left, Kouvelis’s decision to support the government will mean that he has ceded that role to Tspiras.

Independent Greeks.  In the closing days of the June election, the leader of this anti-bailout right-wing party (a splinter group from New Democracy earlier this year), Panos Kammenos, said that he could join a coalition with SYRIZA.  So it is not surprising to see that Kammenos will remain in opposition, notwithstanding the fact that he was once a close ally of Samaras when he was a member of New Democracy.  As the party lost about 3% in support and 13 seats from the May election, it is difficult to know where the future of this group lies — Kammenos is, perhaps, expecting Samaras to fail, thereby enabling him to appeal to disillusioned ND supporters to him in the next election.

KKE (Communists).  The Communists were one of the biggest losers on Sunday: their vote share was nearly halved — it went from 8.5% to an anemic 4.5%, and the KKE lost more than half of its seats as well.  Given KKE leader Aleka Papariga’s obstinacy in joining any coalition with SYRIZA under any circumstances, it seems likely that many KKE supporters migrated to SYRIZA in order to defeat New Democracy.

Golden Dawn.  The neo-fascist party’s support was almost identical to its support in May; with 18 seats, it will have won three fewer than before.  Although that may be somewhat disappointing to the mainstream parties, given some of the antics of the party between the two elections, the mainstream parties would be wise to note the underlying reasons that so many voters have now consistently backed such an extremist, anti-immigrant, neo-nazi party.

Smaller parties.  The smartest of the remaining parties turned out to be the Democratic Alliance (DISY), which won over 2.5% in the May elections — it joined a formal coalition with New Democracy, which may well have made the difference in boosting New Democracy into first place on Sunday.  Look for its leader, Dora Bakoyannis, mayor of Athens from 2003 to 2006 and foreign minister from 2006 to 2009, to take a role in Samaras’s cabinet.  Bakoyannis lost the ND leadership race to Samaras in 2009 and was kicked out of the party in 2010 when she actually voted to support the first of Greece’s two bailouts — she will be a rising star of Greece’s right.

The remaining smaller parties had a very dismal time:

  • support for LAOS (the Popular Orthodox Rally), which won nearly 6% in the 2009 election, and came just a fraction away from entering parliament in May, collapsed to just 1.5%.
  • support for the Ecological Greens, who won 2.93% in May, slipped to under 1%, as many of its voters undoubtedly migrated to SYRIZA.
  • the pro-bailout, liberal alliance led by Action (DRASI) had been expected to enter parliament, but it finished with just over 1.5% as well.

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