Yesterday's Greek general election resulted in a narrow victory for the pro-bailout conservative New Democracy party (ND). The anti-bailout 'radical left' Syriza party were second just 3% behind. ND received 29.66% of the vote, Syriza received 26.89% and third-placed 'socialist' party PASOK recieved just 12.28%.
ND did not receive enough votes for a parliamentary majority, but due to Greece's election rules they get a 50-seat bonus because they came first. This gives them 129 seats in the 300-member strong parliament, Syriza get 71 seats and PASOK 33 seats.
This is an incredible result given ND and PASOK have dominated political life in Greece for the last thirty years. Syriza was formed in January 2004 and gained just 3.3% of the vote in that year. They then increased their vote to 5.04% in 2007. In May this year they received 16.78% and yesterday their share of the vote stood at 26.89%. At some points over the last few weeks of the campaign, Syriza were ahead in the opinion polls. A victory for Syriza would have sent political shockwaves across Europe and around the world. It would have given a boost to the unions and other organisations that are resisting austerity on the streets of Athens and elsewhere.
As it stands, it is still a fantastic result. Whilst it is clear that many anti-bailout parties were attracted to Syriza as the only party that could stop austerity, it is also clear that many parties also rallied to ND for the opposite reason. There was intense pressure in the form of propaganda coming from the European Union (EU) and individual member states on the Greek people to vote for austerity and against an exit from the Euro.
80% of Greek people are against austerity but 80% are also against leaving the Euro. The EU attempted, apparently with some success, to argue that opposing the bailout deal would lead to a Greek exit from the Euro whether Syriza liked it or not. Syriza's policy was to walk a tightrope where they argued they would scrap the bailout deal but try not to leave the Euro. Should Syriza have argued in favour of exiting the Euro? Perhaps. They may have been able to argue a case for why it would be desirable and taken some people with them. But more likely they would have committed electoral suicide, giving the EU what they wanted to an even larger degree.
So what happens now? It is thought that ND will attempt to form a pro-bailout government with PASOK and possibly the 'moderate' Democratic Left who have 17 seats. However, PASOK have said they will not join a government without Syriza and Syriza have said they will not join a pro-bailout government. This is probably political maneouvering on the part of PASOK. They will almost certainly either join a government or support a government without its MPs taking up ministerial posts. They are clearly worried about disappearing into oblivion.
Syriza will then form the 'official opposition' and will have a platform upon which to continue to criticise the government's policies. There is a good chance that this new government will not last very long and Syriza can bide their time and wait for a better opportunity to come to power. For now, the battle will return to the streets.
For further interesting discussion on this see Lenin's Tomb here.