Radical Leftists Are About To Take Control Of Greece

Greece electionREUTERS/Marko DjuricaA supporter of opposition leader and head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waits outside his campaign headquarters in Athens, January 25, 2015.

With 25% of the votes counted Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza party has taken 35% of the vote at the General Election. The first official projection from the Interior Ministry gives the party 150 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

Earlier an updated official exit poll has projected Syriza could win between 36%-38% of the national vote.

The party looks to be comfortably ahead of closest rivals the centre-right New Democracy party, which the poll suggests is on track to gain between 26%-28%. The far-right Golden Dawn party and newly formed centre-left To Potami (The River) are duelling for third place with between 6%-7% of the vote.

A Syriza win would end over four decades of governments led by either New Democracy or PASOK, a centre-left party that has seen its support base collapse since the onset of Europe’s economic crisis.

Greece electionhttp://www.ekloges.ypes.grGreek General Election.

In advance of the result Reuters reports German central bank President Jens Weidmann has called on Greece to stick to its programme of economic reforms.

“I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved,” he said.

Although the exit polls have proven a relatively unreliable predictor of the eventual result in recent years, it at least provides the first indication of whether Syriza has succeeded in bringing its poll lead to bear at the voting booth. With the share suggested by the exit poll the party still has a chance of winning an overall majority (with current official projections showing 8.7% of the vote going to parties that will not enter parliament, Syriza would need over 36.9% for an outright majority.).

Whether its achieves that feat will now depend heavily on how many of the smaller parties reach the 3% threshold needed to get representation in parliament. Yet even if it falls short, winning the largest share of any single party would still be testament the remarkable rise of a party that was only formed in 2004 as a loose coalition of leftist parties and groups.

As Lorcan Roche Kelly points out on Twitter, only three years ago PASOK (which the exit poll suggests could get 4.2%-5.2% of the vote) had 160 seats. Syriza had 13.

The table below shows the percentage of the vote needed for any single party to gain an overall majority in the Greek parliament:

The rise of Syriza

Years of harsh government cuts, staggeringly high unemployment (25.8% as of last October), and an economy that remains roughly 25% smaller than it was six years ago, has made the population distrustful of traditional parties and opened the door to new ones that want to take the country in a different direction.

Syriza, which in Greek is an acronym for the “Coalition of the Radical Left”, was formed in 2004 from a collection of left-wing groups ranging from Marxists and Maoists to the Greens. In 2012 the party won a 27% vote share, making it the second largest party in the Greek parliament.

Despite Syriza’s popularity, there remains a lot of confusion, at least outside of Greece, about what exactly the party stands for. Earlier this week, its 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he laid out his party’s platform and explains his vision for Greece.

Here are the key points:

  • A Syriza victory will mean the age of Greek austerity will finally come to an end. As Tsipras says: “Austerity is not part of the European treaties; democracy and the principle of popular sovereignty are.”
  • Contrary to what many seem to believe, the party does not intend to unilaterally pull Greece out of the eurozone. Indeed, surprisingly for some, Tsipras says he aims to hit European budget targets: “A Syriza government will respect Greece’s obligation, as a eurozone member, to maintain a balanced budget, and will commit to quantitative targets.”
  • He plans to clamp down on tax-evasion by wealthy “oligarchs” to raise budget revenues and has promised to break with the “clientelist and kleptocratic practises” of previous administrations.
  • Syriza will request a “European debt conference” in which they will demand a renegotiation of the repayment terms on the country’s mountainous sovereign debt pile.

And, most importantly, the party is asking to be given time in which to deliver the reforms that Greece needs in order to put itself back into a path of economic growth and debt sustainability.

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