Report: Greece

Greece's New Democracy wins first place in elections

Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis

Greeks went to the polls on Sunday in the first general election since the start of the country's debt crisis. Voters were expected to punish the country's two main parties: the socialist Pasok party and the centre right New Democracy party. Smaller parties opposed to the austerity measures were also expected to do well.


With 98 per cent of the vote counted, the two, formerly largest parties, found themselves at historically low levels, The centre-right New Democracy won first place with just under 19 per cent, while socialist Pasok falls to third place with 13.22 per cent. Together the two pro-bailout parties used to get around 75 to 85 per cent of the vote.

They have governed Greece for the last 35 years and are seen by most as responsible for the near collapse of the economy.

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Smaller parties took more of the popular vote than ever before. The radical left coalition Syriza came second with 16.74 per cent of the vote. This was the most spectacular outcome of the elections as the party polled just 4.6 per cent in the previous 2009 elections. The Communist Party, with 8.46 per cent, gained one percentage point and the Party of the Democratic Left got 6.1 per cent.

The second surprise was the figures for the Independent Greeks, a new populist right-wing party formed just three months ago by members of parliament that split from New Democracy. With 11.6 per cent of the vote, they will get 33 seats.

But most people are in shock because Golden Dawn, a neo-nazi party with a symbol that clearly resembles a swastika, polled almost 7 per cent and managed to get 21 seats in parliament. This is explained variously as an anti-establishment vote and as a reaction of by voters to high levels of criminal activities in some poor neighborhoods of the capital, Athens.

According to official results and projections, New Democracy gets 108 seats in the 300-strong parliament, while Pasok gets only 41. This gives them 149 seats, a total just short of a majority. But even if they somehow win 151 seats, both leaders admitted last night that they could not form a viable government following these results and proposed a national unity government.

On the other hand, the parties of the left together get just 97 seats in parliament, 54 short of a majority. And the communists have already declined all offers, both before and after the elections, to participate in any government.

So it seems that it will be quite difficult for political leaders to form a government. But that does not mean weeks of political instability. The Greek Constitution is very strict on this issue.

The President of the Republic will call the leader of the first party to form a government. Within three days, he must produce a majority or prove that a minority government under him can be viable. Otherwise he must return the mandate to the president who will call upon the leader of the second party, and then –if he also fails to form a government− it will fall to the leader of the third party.

After these three-day “exploratory mandate” periods expire, and if no government is formed, the president convenes a meeting of all parties that have gained parliamentary seats. During this meeting the parties must try to form a government of national unity or a government of technocrats, like that of Mario Monti in Rome.

If all fails, the parliament is dissolved and new elections are called, that must take place within 20 to 30 days after the dissolution of the parliament. That means new elections on 10 June or 17 June. What will happen then is anyone’s guess.

These events, of course, raise the question of how the European Union will react. Berlin has said it will not discuss the possibility of a re-negotiation of the bailout agreement. But the European Union is based on compromise. So, unless Germany is ready to accept the departure of a country from the eurozone, it might try to forge a compromise. The victory of Francois Hollande in France might help Berlin formulate a new position on the matter, without betraying its austerity policies.

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