Enraged by pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions demanded by international lenders in return for 239 billion euros in bailouts to prop up the country's failed economy, Greek voters delivered a stinging rebuke to the two ruling parties that have dominated politics for four decades.
Seven parties won seats in the 300-member parliament during Sunday's (May 6th) polls -- which the New Democracy Conservatives won, but with only 18.88% of the vote. Their bitter rival, the PASOK Socialists slid to third with just 13.1% of the vote, a stunning fall from the 44% the party won in 2009.
Even with a 50-seat bonus awarded to New Democracy for finishing first, the two top parties won only 149 seats, unable to create another coalition. That has unleased a wave of uncertainty whether a new government could be formed -- and whether Greece would adhere to the austerity measures insisted upon by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika, or the country would default or be forced out of the eurozone.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose country is footing much of the bailout bill, warned before the vote that if Greece's new government veered from its commitments, the country will "bear the consequences."
Despite the rising anger, the results surprised many. "Most of the people and political leaders are in shock right now," Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, told SETimes. "It was anger over austerity," he said.
As in fellow EU member France, where voters ousted Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday over austerity measures, furious Greeks turned on their traditional rulers with a vengeance while looking elsewhere for new leadership.
The Leftist SYRIZA party, led by 38-year-old Alexis Tsipras, a former Communist Youth leader, stunned many with a close second-place finish at 16.7%. "After two years of barbarism, democracy is coming home," Tsipras said.
That includes the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party -- that wants all immigrants forced out of the country -- which rocketed from .29% of the votes two years ago to a sixth-place finish with nearly 7% on Sunday. The self-styled Fascists will hold 21 seats in the parliament.
The new Independent Greeks party formed by New Democracy outcast Panos Kammenos, who is opposed to austerity, took fourth with 10.5% of the votes. The Communists came in fifth with 8.47% and the Democratic Left seventh with 6.1%.
The far Right-Wing LAOS party, which briefly served in the coalition, paid for it by failing to gain the 3% threshold needed to enter parliament.
"People expressed their anti-austerity feeling loud and clear," Alex Afouxenidis, a researcher at the Institute of Political Sociology, National Centre for Social Research in Athens, told SETimes. "The result indicates a major shift in Greek politics with PASOK, which governed almost continuously since 1981, in total disarray. Expect new elections in about a month's time."
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras -- who opposed austerity when former PASOK leader George Papandreou was prime minister before resigning six months ago -- has three days to form a government, but is left with almost nowhere to turn.
"I understand the rage of the people, but our party will not leave Greece ungoverned," Samaras said. He now supports austerity but said he wanted to renegotiate the terms, although the Troika warned any attempt to tinker with reforms could lead to a second bailout of 139 billion euros being stopped. Greece is surviving on a first series of 109 billion euros in rescue loans.
Samaras said he would try to find a partner to form a pro-European government, but Tsipras is an anti-capitalist and vehement opponent of austerity.
Greece's electoral law mandates that in case of a hung parliament, the first party has three days to form a government, followed by the second and the third. If no government can be formed, Greece could fall into further political chaos and new elections would have to be held.
Greek media has already speculated on June 17th as the date for the new elections.
Samaras said he would try to form a "national salvation government" to keep the country in the eurozone. He said the election results showed "the disappointment of the Greek people for dead-end policies that have pushed them to the limits."
"I can't imagine how Samaras can co-operate with a political leader who is against austerity. It looks bizarre," George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens, told SETimes.
He said the election result "is not only anti-austerity, it's punishing the politicians who led Greece into default. People know austerity is required, but they require the burden for the crisis to be shared in a fair way and that hasn't happened."
Surveys showed as many as 70% of Greeks want to stay in the eurozone but as many were opposed to austerity.
Thomas Maloutas, director of the National Centre of Social Research, told SETimes the results were astonishing.
"It was unimaginable a few months ago," he said, saying the two-party system had collapsed. "It's the end of an era absolutely, but if we slip into a period of uncertainty I'm afraid the restoration of the old regime cannot be very far away."
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"Greek Voters Punish Ruling Parties for Austerity" is republished with permission of Southeast European Times