Thursday, 29 November 2012

New Poll Confirms Rise of Extremes in Greece

An opinion poll published today shows the Greek radical left opposition party, Syriza, leading the ruling conservative coalition by five points, confirming a trend seen in the polls for the past month.

The poll, which appears in the weekly magazine Epikaira, gives conservative New Democracy 26.5 percent of the popular vote, and Syriza 31.5 percent. It also confirms the oft-predicted rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party to third place with 12.5 percent.

Beyond these three, the field is flat, with a clutch of four small parties claiming between five and 6.5 percent. This is important for three reasons. First, it sinks New Democracy's main coalition partner, the socialist Pasok, to the order of five percent, even lower than its lowest ever election showing of 12 percent last June, and indistinguishable from the likes of other small fry. Pasok had already been cast down from the ranks of potential ruling parties; now it is also on death row. This now should mean that both Pasok and the third coalition partner, the Democratic Left, ought to be more deeply invested in the ruling coalition, for the wilderness awaits them after a Syriza victory (see Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos' article in today's Efimerida ton Syntakton, asking for the full four-year term).

Second, the poll implies that, unless something radical happens, the next parliament will also have seven parties, making it almost impossible for one of the two big players to secure single-party rule. New Democracy has picked its friends. Syriza has taken a step towards doing so. In a press conference two weeks ago its leader, Alexis Tsipras, opened the door a crack to a possible collaboration with the anti-austerity Independent Greeks. The party's main obsessions since it entered parliament in May have been charging the Germans reparations for illegal wartime loans, drilling for mineral resources and hauling off socialist and conservative politicians to the gallows for bringing the country to this pass. The two parties may come from opposite sides of the ideological divide, but they are both reactionary and possibly vindictive.

Third, if, as polls suggest, the Greek electorate is planning to cultivate more small parties without killing off any of the old ones, this will not only make it harder for larger players to form lasting governments; it will also make it harder for them to form mobile ones. Small parties have a narrow scope for action because they cling to life by preening and feeding a flock of client voters. They are, in effect, limited interest groups (witness the Democratic Left's trench-digging before the hallowed issue of dismissing state workers, its client base). The foreseeable future of Greek politics, therefore, does not seem to hold the promise of bold policy moves. Ultimately, though, this may be a good thing as well as a bad thing. It makes reform harder, but it may also hamper a Counter-Reformation. 

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