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Aftermath of Greece's early elections.

By Stelios Papadopoulos

THE GREEK parliament has failed to elect a new president, triggering a snap general election that could bring the far left SYRIZA party to power and put Greece in a collision with international lenders. Alexis Tsipras the party's leader, has vowed that if elected, he will demand a sizable write off of Greek sovereign debt and more government spending.

Stavros Dimas, the presidential candidate, captured 168 votes in Monday's ballot, 12 short of the required majority after the Greek Prime Minister's appeal for consensus failed to round up additional votes from small opposition parties and independent lawmakers. The failed presidential vote prompted a strong market reaction: Greece's short-term borrowing costs rose, with the yield on the country's three year bond yield hitting 11.77%-a record high since the bond was issued earlier this year.

The support for the presidential candidate came only from independent MPs, while the moderate Democratic left and right-wing Independent Greeks resisted the appeal for consensus to complete talks on leaving Greece's bailout programme. Both parties have been in contact with SYRIZA with a view to cooperating with a future left-wing government, although no details of a specific agreement have emerged. SYRIZA has kept a lead in opinion polls over the governing centre-right New Democracy party since coming first in last May's European elections.

The government's consensus measures provided for a participation of the moderate Democratic left in government and elections in late 2015, in exchange for votes in the second and third rounds. However, they did not work. Although they managed to acquire eight more votes compared to the first round, they did not capture the critical votes of the Democratic left and the Independent Greeks.

The government could have captured the pool of 12 independent MPs, but with the exception of three or four of them the rest are one way or another affiliated with SYRIZA. There were some speculations that MPs from the far-right Golden Dawn party might back the presidential candidate, but government members, as well as Dimas himself, have confirmed that no president will get elected with the votes of a far-right party. Furthermore, Golden Dawn stated on its website that "it's more possible for the sun to rise from the west than for Golden Dawn to vote for Stavros Dimas." The government has prosecuted Golden Dawn following the death of a left-wing rapper by party members more than a year ago.

The survival of the government depended on the remaining nine MPs of the Democratic left, since some of the left party's MPs fear its possible absorption by SYRIZA. Such an assessment has however proven wrong. Last May's euro elections triggered a series of resignations that left the Democratic left with nine MPs and talks about its disintegration.

If one looks at the statements of the resigned MPs before and after their resignations, there is one thing that is common to all of them, namely, the fact that they are protests against what they consider as the party's move towards SYRIZA.

Spyros Likoudis the leader of the so called "reformist tendency" within the party, had this to say on September 13, four days after he filed his resignation: "Society has crashed DIMAR (Democratic Left) in the recent Euro-elections…" and added that "the existential anxiety has turned a great part of DIMAR's leadership towards an alliance with SYRIZA."

DIMAR then was split between a reformist centrist tendency and one leaning towards the more traditional centre left. With the party's devastating results in the elections, both the centre left and the reformists concluded that voters punished the party's lack of a clear strategy and identity. Consequently, the party leadership decided that it had to take sides and it chose to side with the centre left.

The centre has suffered massive credibility problems after George Papandreou-the former Premier and leader of the once powerful PASOK party signed the first memorandum in 2009. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the leaders of DIMAR and SYRIZA had scheduled a meeting for after the presidential vote. It is noteworthy because after the vote DIMAR cannot use the vote of its MPs as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.

Consequently, early elections were not that surprising. The important question is what happens now. According to Euro-intelligence-the blog published by Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times-if SYRIZA wins the election, a very likely scenario, it will lack the requisite majority needed to form a government. However, the conclusion is based on the false premise that SYRIZA did not form any alliances. But as this analysis tried to point out, both the Democratic left and the Independent Greeks may very likely form an anti-bailout bloc with SYRIZA.

However, no alliances have been confirmed and it remains to be seen whether such moves, as well as more moderate statements, can attract the more centrist voters.Whether they will be able to carry out their radical proposals is an entirely different question. This will depend on whether SYRIZA can take advantage of the fact that parts of the European establishment wants to use quantitative easing and loosen fiscal austerity. If the party wants to keep Greece within the Eurozone, as they say they do, there is no other way.

When and how this will happen is something only time will tell.

Stelios Papadopoulos is a political risk analyst, Wikistrat researcher and MSc political economy

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Dec 31, 2014
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