Greece is to hold a snap parliamentary election on September 20 – for the second time this year. It will be recalled that the first early election was held past January because that country’s legislative body failed to elect the president. The September elections are caused by the breakup of a SYRIZA-led coalition, when 40 MPs quit this party in protest against the policy of Premier Alexis Tsipras who had accepted EU conditions for the third bailout package for Greece. This election is important for Ukraine because Greece remains the only EU country that has not ratified the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. For this reason, our country is interested in the speediest formation of a new stable Greek Cabinet, which will ratify before the end of this year this agreement that comes into force next year.
The Day requested Dr. Athanasios Drougos, senior analyst in defense and counterterrorism (www.analystsforchange.org) to tell us about Greek society’s expectations for the snap elections, what the next government may be like, and what impact the refugee crisis in Europe may have on the new parliament.
“THE NEW GOVERNMENT IS UNLIKELY TO BE ABLE TO COPE WITH UNTHINKABLE DOMESTIC PROBLEMS”
“The snap elections on September 20 (almost 8 months after the victory of SYRIZA) radically differ from the previous ones and are likely to bring a different parliamentary milieu to the surface. Most Greeks are disappointed with Tsipras’ turnover to our creditors, an extremely tough third Greek bailout program, and the inner split in his party. Therefore, they will be sending certain signals to all political groups, especially SYRIZA. Tsipras lost a parliamentary majority a month ago, when more than 40 members of his party, who disagree to his policies, formed Popular Unity, a party of their own.
“The latest polls show that SYRIZA remains the largest party (although it intensively vying with the conservative party New Democracy. The two parties are expected to run almost neck to neck and gain not more than 30 percent of all the votes each. Therefore, none of the parties will be able to form a government on its own. Polls also indicate that the small nationalist party Independent Greeks will fail to overstep the 3-percent threshold and will thus stay out of parliament.
“The impression is that the new government will hardly be stable and capable of coping with inconceivable domestic financial, social, and humanitarian problems, which may again lead to fresh elections next year.”
What impact can the migration crisis in Europe and the inrush of refugees to Greece have on these elections?
“The big waves of refugees and immigrants from Syria this summer will have a dramatic and profound impact on the results of Greek elections, especially on the Aegean Islands. Most of the Greeks on these islands will vote against SYRIZA because they think the government has no plan of coping with this important matter and that, in some aspects of the refugee problem, the country was ill-prepared for overcoming this crisis, for it had no Plan B. So, of course, this problem has immense and multidimensional consequences for the entire Europe. But the Greek people are deeply disappointed. Besides, the EU has offered Athens no real, strong and flexible support, and critically needed assistance. On the other hand, there have been many instances of violence, and various circles in Greece believe that the humanitarian crisis creates new unsolved problems, such as danger to the border and internal security (for example, illegal entry into my country of people who are linked to extremist Islamist groups and have a different agenda).”
According to public opinion polls, SYRIZA will win these elections in spite of a split in Tsipras’s party. How can you explain this?
“In spite of a deep internal split in SYRIZA, Tsipras remains a prominent political figure and personality. After 40 MPs had decided to distance themselves from SYRIZA, Tsipras managed to retain control over the rest of the deputies. But he has lost true fighters (among politicians, media people, and social and labor activists) who have abandoned him. Compared to other politicians, he remains popular, but not to the extent he was 12, 9, or 4 months ago. Due to the notorious deal with the Germans and the Eurozone (Greece bailout program), Tsipras has lost a lot of popularity and prestige. But, as he is young and has no corruption record, he still manages to enjoy certain support in the various sectors of a deeply divided Greek society. We will see if this is true on the night of September 20. But he will have hard times ahead because people voted for him so that Greece could change its course instead of satisfying the demands of a Germany-guided Europe with its inhuman face and austerity measures.”
Which parties do you think are standing a chance to go through to parliament?
“I personally think that the new parliament will see the following parties: SYRIZA, the conservative New Democracy, POTAMI (‘The River’ in Greek, a more centrist party), PASOK (the former Socialist Party), the fascist Golden Dawn (with a larger number of votes), a small Communist Party (KKE), a new just formed party of SYRIZA dissidents – Popular Unity, and, according to recent polls, a strange and obscure party Union of Centrists. I don’t expect any of the other parties, except for the fascist Golden Dawn, to overcome the 3-percent barrier. Of course, due to disappointment with Tsipras’ policy and unsound decisions, many people will refrain from going to the polls.”
How can a viable coalition and a stable government be formed in this situation?
“The next coalition government will be in for hard times. It will find it difficult to survive as long as Greece remains tied up to the bailout program, when there are heavy and unbearable taxes, an increased number of unemployed young people, notorious corruption, and absence of any plans of real changes in the public sector.
“In my view, we will have either a broad-based coalition government of SYRIZA and New Democracy, but without Tsipras as prime minister (although it is rather an unexpected and difficult question for both sides to coexist), or a SYRIZA-POTAMI-PASOK coalition. Yet these parties are not stable and cannot be regarded as partners that can cooperate.”
Some experts believe that the debt crisis has enriched Greece’s political culture. What do you think about this?
“Greece’s enormous foreign debt must be partially eased and written off – otherwise the country will never be able to update itself. It is necessary to use something from the experience of postwar Germany, from what the winner countries decided. The US and the IMF have fully supported the Greek debt haircut. But Germany still opposes, firmly and scornfully, this option. In any case, this debt and the three bailout programs have had in the past six years and will continue to have a serious impact on Greece’s behavior, style, human approach, and the overall political culture. Unfortunately, what exerts a very strong influence on our policies is the so-called ‘financialization.’ Nor did we resort to other global and regional policy-shaping measures, which brought us dramatic consequences. Something must be done to urgently reverse our movement.”
Can you say now what kind of country we will see after the September 20 elections?
“I am not optimistic about the post-election future. The country has been in an incredible mess for almost six years. There is no hope for a very speedy revival. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Greece must go on with serious transformation plans in order to reach an up-to-date level of development. We must struggle against enormous and deeply corrupt governmental bureaucracy, get rid of old-fashioned politicians, and promote new educated and uncorrupt persons, and offer opportunities to the younger generation. Many other things should also be done. But the existing political parties and elite are unable to accomplish this. So, I remain rather skeptical and, frankly speaking, I would not say the upcoming elections will help solve various problems. Naturally, we will see some election ‘surprises’ from the variegated disappointed electorate, but this will be not enough to change the obsolete state system.”
“THERE IS EVERY REASON TO HOPE THAT THE GREEK PARLIAMENT WILL RATIFY THE AGREEMENT IN OCTOBER”
Volodymyr SHKUROV, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Greece:
“The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement has followed all the necessary national procedures and has been in the Greek Parliament since the end of July 2015. With the snap parliamentary elections to be held in Greece on September 20, there is every reason to hope that the Greek Parliament will ratify the agreement at the end of October or in November this year. The ratification delay is of a technical nature. Almost all the political parties have assured us of being ready to ratify the agreement. Besides, the Greek foreign ministry is actively supporting our efforts in this direction. Serious work on ratification is expected to start after October 10, i.e., after the formation of a new Greek government and parliamentary committees.
“As of today, the radical left SYRIZA, with ex-premier Tsipras at the head, is leading the election race, with 25 percent of voters supporting it. The party is almost in the same position as it was in the January 2015 elections. Another race leader, the official oppositional party New Democracy, is trailing behind by a mere 3 percent.
“As for a future coalition, we can forecast that it may really include, in addition to SYRIZA, such political parties as New Democracy, POTAMI, and PASOK. But they will all have to strike a deal on the basic questions of a joint strategy (such as insurance system reformation, agrarian development, taxation of private educational institutions, etc.).
“As for whether there will be problems with the new Greek government about ratification of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement by the Greek Parliament, I think ratification will take place within a most technically suitable period, i.e., at the end of October or in November 2015.”