The economic crisis inGreecehas thrust into prominence a leftist party that as recently as 2009 received just 4.6% of the vote in parliamentary elections. The Coalition of the Radical Left, known as Syriza to Greeks, is literally a coalition of small political groups stretching from an environmentally-oriented green party to a democratic socialist party to a Maoist group. Led by Alexis Tsipras, a socialist who until 2009 was a city councilor in Athens, Syriza rode a wave of opposition to austerity measures to a stunning 17% of the vote, just two percentage points less than the conservative New Democracy party and four points ahead of the left-leaning Pasok party.
The rise of Syriza and the election of French Socialist Francois Hollande the same weekend are sharp set backs for German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, on behalf of Europe’s largest banks, has been grimly pressing the Greeks to accept depression-level unemployment as the price they must pay in order to pay off a large foreign debt. She and defeated French President Nicholas Sarkozy made a tremendous blunder last November when they bullied the two dominant Greek parties – New Democracy and Pasok, who between them took 80% of the vote in 2009 – into forming a coalition government and passing brutal spending cuts and tax hikes. With both establishment parties discredited, the way was open for Greeks to express their discontent by voting for Syriza and the Nazi-like Golden Dawn party, which received 7% of the vote.
Since the election, Alexis Tsipras has played his cards perfectly. He entered into high profile negotiations to form a coalition government with Pasok and New Democracy, then publically walked out, claiming they were not really willing to re-negotiate the austerity package they agreed to in November. This increased his popularity and polls show that, when a new election is called, Syriza might become the country’s most popular political party. A recent change inGreece’s election laws made that a title worth having.
In an obvious attempt to shore up the dominance of the two established parties, the last parliament passed a law that reserves, after each election, 50 of that body’s 300 seats for the party that receives the largest percentage of votes. That is why New Democracy, with 19% of the votes, has 123 seats in the new parliament while Syriza, with 17% of the vote, has only 66 seats. In the present climate, Syriza has a legitimate chance at receiving a plurality of the vote – 50 reasons for not becoming a junior partner in a coalition government.
Polls going into the Sunday election show a close race between Syriza and New Democracy.