Political Chaos in Athens: Greek Parties Have Little Chance of Forming Government

By Julia Amalia Heyer in Athens

There seems to be little chance of Greece's political parties being able to form a viable coalition government after voters punished the two main parties in Sunday's election. It's a worst case scenario for the country's European partners, whose whole approach to fighting the Greek debt crisis is now in question.

The Greek parliament in Athens. Greece faces a period of political instability after Sunday's election. Zoom
AP

The Greek parliament in Athens. Greece faces a period of political instability after Sunday's election.

Now the worst case scenario has arrived: Greece threatens to become ungovernable. The situation after Sunday's election in Greece looks hopeless. No matter which coalition of parties one calculates, whether big or small, left or right wing, it is impossible to come up with a viable majority government.

The Greeks have once again defied their international partners. They have not been cowed by threats, advice or even the prospect of their own bankruptcy. It's unclear where this new twist in the endless Greek drama will take the country. For Greek voters, the priority was to punish those people who, in the eyes of most Greeks, are mainly to blame for the country's misery: the politicians.

They are supposedly responsible for the steadily shrinking economy and the ever-increasing unemployment. They are blamed for declining salaries, pension cuts and the rapidly deteriorating standard of living. They are to blame for the fact that proud Greece is no longer viewed as an enviably beautiful island nation, but as a symbol of the European debt crisis. But it is highly debatable whether the rage that has now been vented will have a liberating effect in the long term.

Devastating Result

The first lesson that Greek voters wanted to teach the political establishment was that pride comes before a fall. For the two major traditional parties, the conservative New Democracy (ND) and the socialist PASOK, that fall has been very steep. The Socialists saw their vote collapse by about 30 percentage points compared to the last elections in 2009. Rarely has a European party seen such a drop in support.

But there was plenty of hubris on the European level too. Athens received warnings and threats from all sides. But nobody really expected voters to deliver a result that is so devastating for the EU's approach to fighting the Greek crisis.

Photo Gallery

9  Photos
Photo Gallery: Voters Punish Greece's Major Parties
Just four weeks ago, a high-level envoy from the European Commission was still "firmly convinced" that one party would get an absolute majority or that there could be a coalition between the two main parties which signed the credit agreements with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But now, the Socialists and New Democracy could not form a coalition even if they wanted to -- they only have 149 seats between them, out of 300 in the Greek parliament.

And so the vicious circle of the Greek crisis has been set in motion once again.

Warnings and Threats

The IMF is already threatening not to pay out the next tranche of aid, which is due in late May. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already said, via her spokesman, that the current austerity-based approach is the only solution and has to be maintained. And the European Commission has already warned that solidarity is based on reciprocity and emphasized that agreements which have already been made cannot be terminated now. Will it go on like this forever, with the donors issuing warnings and threats and the Greeks being defiant?

The current situation is simple. There is no longer any support for the existing EU-IMF strategy -- not among the population and now, clearly, no longer among the political parties either. The only two small parties that could have been junior partners in a pro-austerity coalition failed to get any seats in parliament, having fallen short of the 3 percent threshold. The other party leaders are all rejecting overtures from the Socialists and New Democracy -- whether left or right, they are all against the terms of the country's bailout.

Panos Kammenos, head of the Independent Greeks party and a former New Democracy minister, said he would not even form a coalition with the conservatives if he was dead. Kammenos' recently founded party won 33 seats. Fotis Kouvelis, head of the moderate Democratic Left, also rejects a coalition, saying: "We will not follow a policy which leads to the impoverishment of our people and our society." His party came from nowhere to win 19 seats.

Antonis Samaras, who as head of the largest parliamentary group was tasked with building a coalition, gave up trying to form a government on Monday, less than 24 hours after the election. His appeals for parties to form a "government of national unity" went unheeded.

Unlikely Feat

Now it's the turn of the election's big winner, Alexis Tsipras, the head of Syriza, the "Coalition of the Radical Left," to try to form a government. If he manages the unlikely feat of building a coalition, then the representatives of the troika of the IMF, European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) may as well pack up and leave Athens. Alternatively, the creditors may agree to renegotiate the loan agreement, and both sides would try to find a sustainable solution that would work under the new political constellation. But that seems unlikely, given the two sides' track record of threats and protests.

A new government needs to be formed by May 17. The troika has already announced a visit scheduled for May 19 to inspect the progress of the reforms it has demanded.

But a third date could prove more significant: June 17. That is when new elections will be held, if the parties fail to form a government.

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1. Name the Guilty
PHOEVOS 05/09/2012
"For Greek voters, the priority was to punish those people who, in the eyes of most Greeks, are mainly to blame for the country's misery: the politicians." Let's be specific. Actually one politician and her name is Angela Merkel. Dean Plassaras.
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