Greek voters vent anger towards austerity at ballot box
Parties that passed unpopular belt-tightening measures punished by electorate at ballot box
Helena Smith in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 6 May 2012 18.46 EDT
Voters in Greece sent tremors across the eurozone on Sunday by recording a massive protest vote against EU-dictated austerity. Parties that had participated in an emergency government tasked with passing deeply unpopular belt-tightening measures in return for rescue loans to prop up the near-bankrupt Greek economy were routed at the ballot box.
Instead, with the recession-hit country lurching deeper into poverty and despair, voters backed groups on the left and right that had virulently opposed the deficit-reduction policies demanded by international creditors.
"This is a message of change, a message to Europe that a peaceful revolution has begun," said Alexis Tsipras, who heads Syriza, a coalition of radical left and green groups that took 16.6% of the vote – the second largest share. "German chancellor Angela Merkel has to know that the politics of austerity have suffered a humiliating defeat."
The reaction from Brussels and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, which have provided bailouts worth €240bn, was silence.
With no single party winning enough support to form a government, a period of uncertainty lies ahead as political leaders attempt to form a coalition. Analysts did not rule out fresh elections in June if a new administration cannot be formed.
The spectre of political unrest and market turmoil prompted many to ask why the elections had taken place at all.
Voters went out of their way to "punish" mainstream parties widely blamed for years of fiscal mismanagement. "How can we vote for parties to be part of the solution when they got us in this mess in the first place?" asked Poppi Stathera, a mother of two, who said she had been out of work for the past year. "We've been completely destroyed. Our country is in ruins."
Economic freefall and social disintegration also prompted Greeks to vote for the far right Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which campaigned on an anti-immigration ticket. The ultra-nationalists, who poured into the streets holding blazing torches, captured 7% of the vote – enough to place 19 deputies in the 300-seat house for the first time since the collapse of military rule in 1974.
The conservative New Democracy party came in first but with 18.9% of the vote, according to figures released by Greece's interior ministry.
Pasok, the socialist party led by Evangelos Venizelos, the former finance minister who had been the architect of many of the unpopular policies, won 13.4%, compared to 40% in the last national poll, in 2009.
"Support for the two main parties literally nosedived in the provinces," said Dimitris Keridis, professor of political science at Athens' Panteion University. "We are talking about a complete collapse of the party system as we have known it, which opens up new concerns about Greece's ability to govern itself."
In a sign of the political tumult that lies ahead, Antonis Samaras, New Democracy's leader, said he would seek to create a "government of national salvation" that would attempt to amend the loan agreement Greece had signed with its "troika" of creditors, the EU, European Central Bank and IMF.
"We are ready to assume the responsibility of forming a government of national salvation with two goals," he said, "keeping [Greece] in the euroand amending the policies of the memorandum [outlining the terms of the country's rescue loans] so that there can be development and relief for society."
Appealing to pro-European forces to consider his offer, he added: "I understand people's rage but our party cannot allow Greece to remain ungoverned."
If the conservatives are unable to forge consensus, it will fall to Tsipras, as leader of the second biggest party, to try to do so. The leftist leader said he would act on his pre-election pledge to form a government of "the united left", citing his party's spectacular rise in the polls as proof that Greeks wanted such an administration to steer them out of the crisis.
"With their vote the Greek people have given the mandate for a new day in our country without the cruel bailout measures," he said. "The loan agreement that was signed without their consent has been de-legitimised by popular vote."
But the spectre of political unrest and market turmoil prompted many to question the snap poll. Athens has been told in no uncertain terms that failure to uphold the conditions of the financial rescue programs will result in a freezing of funds and default.
"It was a grave mistake to hold this election in such an atmosphere and time of crisis and before the economy was stabilized," said Keridis. "This result couldn't come at a worse time for Greece."
BBC 6 May 2012 Last updated at 22:15 ET
Greek governing parties 'lose majority' at polls
Greece's two governing parties, which back tough austerity measures, have lost their parliamentary majority in Sunday's election.
With almost all votes counted, centre-right New Democracy is leading with 19%, down from 33.5% in 2009.
Centre-left Pasok is in third place with 13.3%, down from 43.9% in the last elections. Left-wing coalition Syriza is in second place with 16.7%.
Pasok and New Democracy have been in coalition since last November.
There is widespread anger across Greece to harsh measures imposed by the government in return for international bailouts.
Syriza opposes the government's austerity measures.
The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party could enter parliament for the first time if their tally of almost 7% holds up.
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said he would form a national salvation government to keep the country in the euro.
But he said he would seek to "amend" Greece's controversial EU-IMF bailout agreement in order to boost growth.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said he wanted to form a left-wing coalition rejecting the terms of Greece's bailouts.
"The parties that signed the memorandum (with the EU and the IMF) are now a minority. The public verdict has de-legitimised them," he said.
"Our proposal is a left-wing government that, with the backing of the people will negate the memorandum and put a stop to our nation's predetermined course towards misery."
Pasok leader and former Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos called for a broad coalition government of pro-European parties.
"A coalition government of the old two-party system would not have sufficient legitimacy or sufficient domestic and international credibility if it would gather a slim majority," he said.
"A government of national unity with the participation of all the parties that favour a European course, regardless of their positions toward the loan agreements, would have meaning."
He added: "For us in Pasok, today is particularly painful. We knew the price would be heavy and we had undertaken for a long time to bear it."
Pasok was in power when Greece negotiated the terms of its 2010 bailout of 110bn euros (£88bn; $143bn) and was in a coalition with New Democracy when it secured this year's 130bn euro deal.
In fourth place in the partial results was the new right-wing Independent Greeks with 10%.
Its leader, Panos Kammenos, has already ruled out co-operation with either Pasok or New Democracy, Athens News reported.
Coalition negotiations can take place over three days. If they fail, the party in second place can try to form a coalition, and if still unsuccessful, the third party will receive the mandate.
If still no coalition emerges, Greece will hold another election - a prospect which would alarm heft country's international creditors.
The ability of any new government to carry on with the austerity programme will be crucial for Greece's continued access to bailout funds from the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - the so-called Troika.
Any political instability may prompt fresh questions over the country's place in the eurozone.
Under the current plan, a further 11bn euros of savings in spending are due to be found in June.
Othan Anastasakis, director of south-east European studies at Oxford University, said it would be unprecedented if no party won more than 20% of the vote.
"The whole landscape becomes even more unpredictable after the election. We don't know if there will be a coalition or how long it will survive. I don't see it surviving very long.
"Greeks are sending a very strong message abroad, which is 'enough with austerity'."
Greek debt crisis ignites again as voters punish mainstream parties for brutal cuts
Country's future in eurozone thrown into doubt as groups opposed to EU bailout make gains
DANIEL HOWDEN ATHENS
MONDAY 07 MAY 2012
A Clear majority of Greeks voted for parties who campaigned against the European Union bailout deal which has seen the country avoid an outright default at enormous cost to its economy and standard of living. The conservatives and socialists who have swapped power for four decades were left reeling as they polled less than 34 per cent between them, according to early results.
Syriza, a leftist party that has vowed to renegotiate the memorandum on which the international bailout was agreed, came second with roughly 16 per cent, some three points behind conservative New Democracy and two points ahead of socialist Pasok. Those percentages may change in the final count. As the leading party New Democracy will have the first chance to form a coalition starting today despite its poorer than expected showing.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, which made the biggest gains, said that Greeks had voted for a "peaceful revolution" and against the "barbarous memorandum."
On an unseasonally hot day Greeks turned on the parties held most responsible for an economic crisis that has seen a deep recession lead to record unemployment and social breakdown. Communists, nationalists and fascists all made gains at the expense of the leaders who have been working with EU leaders during the crisis.
Lina Kyriakidou, a Phd student working as a waitress in central Athens, said that people had sent a message to Brussels and their own political elite: "They keep saying that if we don't have New Democracy or Pasok we will have chaos," said the 35-year-old. "We already have chaos."
The results in Greece will reverberate through the rest of the eurozone where there is a growing conflict over the balance of austerity versus growth measures as the EU attempts to address a sovereign debt crisis without sinking into a wider recession.
Two years after international markets lost confidence in Greece's ability to service its debts, the country was left with little choice but to agree a memorandum with the troika of the EU, InternationalMonetary Fund and the European Central Bank which stipulated structural reforms in return for loans of more than €100bn.
That memorandum has become the centrepiece of politics in Greece where the economic collapse now has put a quarter of the population out of work after four years of recession. With Greece still unable to borrow from the markets, a second bailout had to be agreed last year along with a restructuring of its debts that saw creditors take a "haircut" in return for reassurances over future reforms and payments.
The two traditional parties, who have alternated in power for the last 40 years, have haemorrhaged support as they have been pushed by the troika to implement the reforms outlined in the bailout package.
"It's clear from today's vote that Greeks don't want the memorandum," said former socialist foreign minister Thodoris Pangalos, a veteran of Greece's socialists Pasok. "The question is what do Greeks want?"
The answer to that question may well frighten much of the rest of Europe. Among the newcomers to the 300-seat parliament is Golden Dawn, a neo-nazi movement that has been involved in violent attacks on ethnic minorities and campaigned for all foreigners to be deported. The party, which enjoys strong support within Greece's often-criticised police and army, has called for immigrants to be put in work camps in an interview with The Independent.
There also appeared to be strong support for the new Independent Greeks party, a far-right nationalist group calling for Greece to reject the EU's bailout terms and look to fellow Orthodox Christians in Russia for support.
Greece has been gripped by deep anxiety over its own future. While most polls still show a majority of Greeks wish to remain in the euro, the same surveys have consistently shown a majority for parties opposed to the current deal.
"Greece is facing an identity crisis and the outcome is totally uncertain," said commentator Nikos Konstandaras.
The London Telegraph
France, Greece and Germany election results send austerity shockwaves through Europe
The stunning victory of the French Socialists and wipe-out of mainstream parties in Greece sent shock waves on Sunday night crashing throughout the continent of Europe.
By Bruno Waterfield, Devorah Lauter in Paris and Matthew Day
8:38PM BST 06 May 2012
François Hollande's election threws down the gauntlet to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who has railroaded the eurozone into agreeing a new "fiskalpakt" treaty enshrining Germany's austerity doctrine.
The economic doctrine of austerity, to cut the burden of state spending to free up the economy, has ruled supreme with the support all of Europe's leaders, the European Union and financial markets.
But political leaders were on Sunday night conceding the consensus had been shattered beyond repair.
With Europe's economies plunging further into recession and as unemployment in the eurozone breaks record levels, voters demands for a new approach had finally become to great to ignore.
The popular backlash to EU imposed austerity to the centrist New Democracy and Socialist parties in Greece threatens the existence of the euro itself.
Greeks punish parties of austerity
06 May 2012
Angela Merkel suffers setback after Schleswig-Holstein election
06 May 2012
Nicolas Sarkozy booted out of office having exhausted France
06 May 2012
French voters go to the polls
06 May 2012
Just how dangerous is the socialist hand-grenade Francois Hollande?
05 May 2012
Will markets vanquish Hollande?
06 May 2012
Greece is potentially ungovernable as a minority government must try and pass a new raft of austerity measures next month which are a condition of an EU-IMF bailout and Greek membership of the euro.
In France, while Hollande, the Socialist President-elect is a centrist, he is sitting on a powder keg of resentment at measures that his government will have to pass if it is not spark a meltdown of financial markets.
He has refused to ratify the treaty unless the eurozone and EU also sign up to a "growth pact".
Mr Hollande also horrified Berlin by sneering at the idea that France should change its constitution to enshrine a "debt brake" outlawing Socialist spending levels.
In a meeting in Berlin next week, Chancellor Merkel is set to warn the French President, that weakening austerity pledges would rattle markets and undermine investor confidence at a critical time for the eurozone's economy.
She will remind him that support for the eurozone austerity pact is the condition for European Central Bank support for struggling financial institutions, many of which are French.
Dubbed the "Iron Chancellor" domestically, she will not climb down for a Socialist president who is close to the German Social Democrats ahead of elections in Germany next year.
Mrs Merkel's governing coalition suffered a fright of its own at the ballot box yesterday after appearing to lose its ruling majority in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.
Although the German chancellor's personal popularity remains strong the Christian Democrats-Free Democrats coalition has struggled in a series of local elections over the past 12 months, with the junior party seeing its popularity collapse.
Pressure on Mr Hollande to back away from radical policies and implement the austerity measures demanded by Mrs Merkel will come from the EU and financial markets.
Lord Glasman, a senior adviser to Ed Miliband, the Labour leader said that avoiding a reaction from financial markets would make Mr Hollande cautious and push him into the arms of Germany.
"There is very little chance that the financial markets will give Hollande the room to be radical. Mitterrand, elected in the heyday of Thatcher, was forced to abandon policies by the markets," he said.
"That was before the euro, which is locked to political conservatism."
French officials in the defeated Sarkozy administration have predicted economic chaos for highly indebted France, which owes most of its debt to foreign investors.
"I am very worried for the French economy," said Gilles Carrez, budget rapporteur in the French parliament for Mr Sarkozy's UMP party. "We have made considerable efforts in the past three years to manage the crisis," he said.
Mr Carrez said that markets were keenly aware that President Sarkozy had brought the French state deficit down ahead of schedule to 5.2 per cent of GDP.
"The slightest let up will see us skid off course. Hollande proposes a return to a spiral of raising spending and civil servants," he said.
"As he has to make compromises with Communists and Greens, we are heading for the worst. The markets have not yet reacted, as we have scrupulously respected our deficit reduction commitments. But if they see the hatches even slightly opening - a U-turn on retirement reforms, say – the punishment will be immediate. The markets will judge the Socialists not by their promises but by their actions." On May 16, the French treasury will seek to raise a billion euros on the markets, and all eyes will be on how well it fares.
Mr Hollande has promised to "dominate" financial markets, and early on in his campaign, stated that finance was his "greatest enemy", words that might come to haunt to him.
On May 30, new unemployment figures for April are due. Mr Hollande can expect bad news and a spate of industrial redundancies and plant closures, including household names such as Carrefour, which were postponed during the elections, are expected. The losses will anger trade unions and threaten to ignite social conflict in the opening days of his presidency.
Greek Voters Punish 2 Main Parties for Collapse
By RACHEL DONADIO and NIKI KITSANTONIS
Published: May 6, 2012The NY Times
ATHENS — Greece was plunged into political uncertainty on Sunday after voters bolstered the far left and neo-Nazi right in a wave of protest that saw the crushing defeat of the dominant political parties they blame for Greece’s economic collapse.
The parliamentary elections were the first time Greece’s foreign loan agreement had been put to a democratic test, and the outcome was clear: a rejection of the terms of the bailout and a fragmentation of the vote so severe that the two more established parties were scrambling to form alliances in a hung Parliament.
The elections were seen as pivotal, determining both the country’s future in Europe and its prospects for economic recovery. The outcome, along with that in France, is expected to resonate far beyond Europe and possibly lead to more upheaval in the euro zone. The results were also a clear rebuke to European leaders that their strategy for Greece had failed.
With 80 percent of votes counted, the center-right New Democracy was in first place with 20 percent of the vote, or 111 seats in the 300-member Parliament, a sharp drop from the 34 percent it won in 2009. In a major shift, the Socialists, who dominated for decades and were in power when Greece asked for foreign aid in 2010, appeared to have only 14 percent of the vote, or 42 seats — down significantly from their 44 percent share in 2009.
The results put them behind the Coalition of the Radical Left, called Syriza, which opposes the terms of Greece’s agreement with its foreign lenders. It drew 16 percent of the vote, or 50 seats, dominating in all major metropolitan areas. In a sign of the depth of the social turmoil here, early results also showed the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose members perform Nazi salutes at rallies, pulled in 6.8 percent of the vote — compared with less than 1 percent in 2009 — enough to enter Parliament for the first time with 21 seats.
Starting Monday, the front-runners have three days to try to form a government. But with seven parties expected to enter Parliament, the prospects for stability appeared low.
“It’s a completely fragmented Parliament,” said Loukas Tsoukalis, the president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens research institute. “The two former big parties have suffered a defeat which is greater than most people had expected.”
He said that he expected new elections soon. “The question is what happens in between, whether there are any realignments in the Greek political system that provide credible alternatives to protest movements,” Mr. Tsoukalis said. “If this doesn’t happen, then Greece is in deep” trouble, he added.
The two main parties were struggling to respond to the end of their nearly 40-year dominance of Greek politics. The Socialists’ leader, Evangelos Venizelos, called for a national unity government, saying that a coalition with only the Socialists and New Democracy would not have legitimacy. Calling Sunday an “exceptionally painful day,” Mr. Venizelos said that the Greek parties that had said there was an alternative to the loan agreement had misled voters. “God of Greece, help us,” he said.
The New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, on Sunday appeared to reject the possibility of a coalition with the Socialists. He called instead for a “government of national salvation” aimed at “modifying” the terms of a second loan agreement Greece signed with creditors in February, while still keeping Greece in the euro zone. The clear winner in the elections, the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, called for a coalition of left-wing parties.
In spite of the party leaders’ declarations to the contrary, some analysts said they would not rule out the possibility that New Democracy and the Socialists could form a coalition for their political survival, though it would have little legitimacy in the wake of elections in which voters migrated to anti-austerity parties.
The success of Golden Dawn is the ultimate expression of a protest vote. The party has gained ground by campaigning on the streets of Athens, where many residents fear a sharp rise in illegal immigration and where politicians from mainstream parties resist treading for fear of attacks by angry voters.
The party’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, pledged to “fight the memorandum of the junta inside and outside Parliament,” referring to Greece’s debt deal with creditors.
In the Athens neighborhood of Agios Panteleimonas, where the recent increase in the number of illegal immigrants has changed the texture of the area, Sotirios Dimos, 43, a post office employee, said that although he had always supported the Socialists, on Sunday he voted for Golden Dawn. “The Socialists were incapable of doing anything,” he said.
The next Greek government, inheriting a deepening recession and facing the likelihood of social unrest, will have to enforce a loan agreement with its creditors — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The deal stipulates slashing $15.5 billion from the state budget over the next two years and completing a crucial bank recapitalization.
Yet with Greece’s gross national product having dropped 20 percent since 2009 and unemployment soaring to 21 percent, fierce opposition to the bailout terms — tax increases and wage cuts — has led to the implosion of the Socialist and New Democracy Parties, and the rise of parties on the right and the left that oppose the loan deal.
That anger was palpable on Sunday in Neos Kosmos, a middle-class district near central Athens. Evgenia Vogiatzi, a 45-year-old teacher and a lifelong Socialist, said that Greece was “in a state of enslavement” that had led her to support the Communist Party, which backs a return to the drachma, Greece’s currency before the euro.
“I’ve had my salary cut 30 percent, I’m paying taxes through the nose and they’re talking about more cuts,” Ms. Vogiatzi said. “If that’s what it takes to stay in Europe, I don’t want Europe.”
In the upper-middle-class Psychiko neighborhood in Athens, many supporters of the Socialist Party, known here as Pasok, said they had voted for radical-left Syriza for the first time. “I voted in anger,” said Evangelia Grillaki, 65, a retired florist. “We feel 1,000 percent betrayed.”
Syriza, a coalition of leftist parties founded in 2004 that included splinter groups from Greece’s more hard-line Communist Party, appeared to receive the bulk of the Socialist protest vote. Led by Mr. Tsipras, 38, the party is in favor remaining in the euro zone and the European Union, unlike the Communist Party, but has opposed the loan agreement.