From The New York Times
In the two years since Greece
asked for a foreign bailout, its leaders have had trouble governing even with a clear majority. Now, as the country heads to elections on Sunday in which no single party is expected to secure enough votes to form a stable government, they may have to try governing with political chaos.
Along with elections in France
, and with a rising tide of anti-austerity sentiment across Europe, Greece’s vote is expected to have a clear impact on the future of the euro
. The next government, amid a deepening recession and facing likely social unrest, will have to enforce the country’s loan agreement with its foreign creditors, which stipulates slashing $15.5 billion from the state budget over the next two years and completing a crucial bank recapitalization.
Yet fierce opposition to the bailout terms — tax increases and wage cuts that have seen Greece’s gross national product drop 20 percent since 2009 and unemployment hit 21 percent — has led to the implosion of the two parties that have dominated Greek politics for four decades, the Socialists and the center-right New Democracy, and the rise of fringe parties on both the right and the left that oppose the loan deal.
“It’s the end of an era. A discredited political system and its contract with society are coming to an end,” said Stavros Lygeros, a political commentator and the author of “From Kleptocracy to Bankruptcy,” about Greece’s economic collapse. “The problem is that there is nothing to replace it. The old order is dying, but the new one has not yet been born.”
That loan agreement was hashed out with the temporary government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos
, a former vice president at the European Central Bank who was installed in November
. He called early elections
last month after his government fulfilled its mandate of signing Greece’s loan agreement with its foreign creditors — the European Union
, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known as the troika.
The troika had been keen to have Mr. Papademos stay on as a stabilizing force to carry out the loan agreement, but he has clearly worn out his welcome with Greek voters, who see him as more beholden to the country’s lenders than to them.
But the Socialists and New Democracy, the traditional governing parties, are equally unpopular with voters, who are expected to punish them for backing the terms of the bailout. Accustomed to polling more than 80 percent of the vote combined in most elections, this time they will be fortunate to receive more than about 40 percent combined.
The situation is so volatile that veteran pollsters have had trouble conducting polls. “Our models of social analysis are based in the past, I mean in a society which practically does not exist anymore,” said Costas Panagopoulos, the president of the polling company ALCO.
The Coalition of the Radical Left, called Syriza, which opposes the loan agreement but wants Greece to stay in the euro zone, is expected to place third, which would be the party’s strongest showing. It has campaigned under the slogan, “They chose without us, we’re moving on without them.”
Those margins are expected to make it extremely difficult for the front-runner to form a government. Although Greece lacks a tradition of coalition rule, political analysts say the most likely outcome is for New Democracy and the Socialists to form a coalition government with the New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras as prime minister — even though he has said that he would refuse to share power and would call for new elections if he did not receive a clear mandate.
The Socialists’ leader, Evangelos Venizelos, who helped negotiate the loan deal as finance minister and is holding the fractured party together, has expressed an openness to forming a coalition, as well as the importance of remaining in the euro zone.
“On Sunday it will be decided whether we stay in Europe and in the euro zone or whether we condemn the country to bankruptcy and its people to massive poverty,” he said Friday at a small and lackluster rally.
The economic turmoil has galvanized a range of smaller parties, which oppose the loan agreement but have little else in common. They include the right-wing Independent Greeks party, which wants to stay in the euro zone; and the hard-line Communist Party, which never split with Moscow during the cold war and wants Greece to leave the European Union.
Many Greeks are ready to abandon the established parties. “This is the first year I’m going to vote for a smaller party,” said Anna Zerva, 45, a shop clerk and former Socialist supporter. She said that she was undecided between Syriza or the Ecologist Greens, which may reach the 3 percent threshold required to enter Parliament.
Nodding at Greece’s culture of political patronage, Ms. Zerva said that the Socialists had helped her husband find a job at the post office. “In spite of that, we don’t feel the need to support them forever,” she said. She added that her mother, a New Democracy supporter, would vote for Independent Greeks because she is angry that her pension had been cut to $760 a month and that her last electricity bill was $520.
Supporters of New Democracy are equally fed up. At a rally for Mr. Samaras in Athens on Thursday, Giorgos Bilanakis, 45, said that he used to support New Democracy but that this time he would vote for the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn
, which is expected to reach the 3 percent threshold, tapping into fears of illegal immigration
and a loss of national pride.
His wife interjected that she believed he was just posturing and would change his mind, but Mr. Bilanakis was adamant. “Someone has to do something. They got us into this mess, and with them it’s only going to get worse,” he said, referring to the two big parties. “I’m with Golden Dawn.”
In his campaign, Mr. Samaras has hit nationalist notes and called attention to what he considers Greece’s illegal immigration problem. But at his rally on Thursday, he also said, “I don’t accept as a Greek to see the Nazi flag in the Greek Parliament.”
Mr. Samaras, who opposed the first bailout as opposition leader in 2010 but supported the second one in February as part of Mr. Papademos’s government, has been treading a fine line by simultaneously honoring Greece’s loan agreement and pushing back against it, hoping that the growing anti-austerity sentiment in Europe will bolster his position.
Even as smaller parties are expected to make gains, many Greeks are resigned that the Socialists and New Democracy will continue to dominate. “If there were a chance these elections would change things, they wouldn’t hold them,” said Dimitris Tsoukas, 56, a shop clerk. “They’re just opening the valve a bit to release some of the pressure. In a few weeks people will be back out on the streets protesting.”