The Greek parliamentary election took place on September 20, less than nine months since the previous election. Many commentators predicted a tight-run contest; however, there was a stronger-than-expected victory for the Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras.
The Greek electoral system, an overview
The Greek parliament also known as the Hellenic Parliament consists of 300 members of parliament. Members are elected to a four year term by a system of “reinforced” proportional representation. The largest party automatically receives an additional 50 seats. Parties must reach a threshold of 3% of the vote to enter parliament. To that end, the more votes cast for parties who fail to enter parliament, the more seats per percentage of vote received is given to those in parliament. This is important as an outright majority is linked to the performance of the smaller parties. If a majority government cannot be formed, there is a three day window to form a government. Failing this, a new election will be called. Voting is compulsory between the ages of 18-70 in Greece however this is not strictly enforced.
Greece typically enjoys a turnout of between 70-75% for parliamentary elections. Perhaps fatigued from frequent national polls, the September Greek election presented a historically low voter turnout, at 56.5%. The current electoral system of Greece was introduced in 2004 and first put into use in the 2007 parliamentary elections.
Opinion polling conducted prior to the election indicated two clear leaders, the incumbent Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) and the conservative New Democracy (ND). Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, has been in power since January 2015, where they swept to power on the promise of ending austerity and re-negotiating the terms of Greece’s bailout. However, Tsipras ended up accepting a new package of austerity measures in August. In protest, some Syriza MP’s defected and the party lost its majority. The New Democracy party, led by interim leader Vangelis Meimarakis was the main opposition to Syriza. Their election campaign emphasized consensus and co-operation for Greece’s future.
Other parties of note include; The River (Potami), A pro-European centre-left party led by Stavros Theodorakis; Golden Dawn, a controversial far-right ultranationalist party led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos; The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a centre-left party, led by Fofi Gennimata; The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), led by Dimitris Koutsoumpas; The Union of Centrists (Enosi Kentroon), a centre-focused party, led by Vassilis Leventis; Popular Unity (Laiki Enotita), a far-left party formed by 25 MPs that broke away from Syriza; and the Independent Greeks (ANEL), a right-wing party led by Panos Kammenos, who were Syriza’s coalition partners.
Core campaign issues
Syriza was elected in January on an anti-austerity mandate, promising to renegotiate bailout terms for Greece. After a referendum in July, this mandate was bolstered once again with a majority in support of the government declining bailout terms. The implementation of extraordinary austerity measures since 2010 has seen the shrinking of the Greek economy by nearly 25% in addition to drastic cuts in public services, public sector wages and significant welfare state retrenchment. In a remarkable U-turn, the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accepted a harsh three-year bailout plan and conceded to further austerity measures and economic reforms. Nearly a third of Syriza’s party refused to back Tsipras and the prime minister resigned, triggering the September general election.
(Source: Greek Interior Ministry)
*Includes additional 50 seats for finishing first.
Syrzia won the election by a significant margin but fell short of forming a majority government by six seats. Syriza will comfortably form a coalition government with its previous partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL). This coalition will create a slim majority government of only 5 seats. This will continue to be an interesting partnerships as both parties hold similar views on anti-austerity, but would retain wildly contrasting views in terms of both ideology and policy. European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced his astonishment at Syriza’s intent to continue in coalition with ANEL, advocating they be replaced with the more centre left parties. Popular Unity, the far-left splinter group of Syriza founded by Panagiotis Lafazanis, failed to win enough votes to enter parliament. The outspoken critic of Tsipras and former Speaker of parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou consequently failed to retain a seat.
What can we expect?
Alexis Tsipras faces the challenge of implementing the terms of the recent bailout plan and reconciling unity within his own party, as many Syriza members objected to the bailout. Having received a new mandate in the recent election Tsipras will be able to implement the unpopular reforms under the third bailout worth up to €86 billion. Major policies to be implemented through the bailout plan, include the transfer of Greek national assets, pension reform, and VAT and other tax reform.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Greece’s creditors, the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund were expected to meet over the next few months to conduct a review aimed at releasing new funds under the bailout deal.
Greece, similar to the rest of the EU will have to contend with the refugee crisis and the creation of sustainable growth and jobs too.