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Dimitri Lascaris: New Democracy win a hollow victory as majority of Greeks reject austerity and underlying problems remain unsolved

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In Greece, the election is now more or less over. There is still some final counting going on, but it seems clear the New Democracy party, the pro-bailout party, has won 29 percent, just slightly over that. The anti-bailout party, SYRIZA, has won just over 27 percent. In all likelihood there will be some kind of coalition government of pro-bailout parties, and they will expect to have to implement 77 austerity measures and sack or fire or lay off 150,000 Greek civil servants. That was part of this austerity bailout plan.

Now joining us to talk about his reaction to all of this is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a lawyer who practices in London and Toronto, Ontario. Before that, he was a securities lawyer for a major Wall Street firm, working in their New York and Paris offices. He’s also practiced working for the Bank of Greece and the German development bank in numerous cross-border securities offerings. And, of course, he’s an avid follower of what goes on in Greece. Thanks for joining us, Dimitri.


JAY: So, first of all, just factually, what do we know so far about the election results?

LASCARIS: Well, essentially, 100 percent of the votes have been counted. There are 300 seats in the Greek Parliament. The New Democracy, which I think describes itself as a center-right party, as you indicated, has garnered a smidgen below 30 percent of the vote. Were it not for a special premium accorded to the first-place winner in terms of seats, it would get 79 seats. But with that premium, which is 50-seat premium that goes to the first-place party, it’s expected to have 129 seats in the 300-seat parliament. It’s followed next by SYRIZA, which has been described frequently in the Western press as an ultra-left party fiercely opposed to the bailout, with slightly less than 27 percent of the vote and 71 seats projected, followed by the purportedly center-left party, PASOK, with 12.3 percent of the vote and expected to have about 33 seats. And then, finally, there’s a smattering of seats allocated to four parties: the Independent Greeks, who are somewhat more right than the New Democracy party but are anti-bailout; there’s the Golden Dawn Party, which is a radical right-wing party and probably the party that most resembles the Nazi regime of the ’30s in Greek politics, and probably in the continent, and they garnered, unfortunately, almost 7 percent of the vote and are expected to have 18 seats; the Democratic Left, which is perceived to be somewhat less hardline than SYRIZA, with 6.3 percent of the vote and 17 seats; and the Communist Party, with 4.5 percent and 12 seats.

The anti-bailout parties, which basically means all the parties except PASOK and New Democracy, collectively have garnered 58 percent of the popular vote. However, it appears that the pro-bailout parties are going to form the next government, although there are—there’s no assurance of that happening, for a variety of reasons.

JAY: Yeah, just in terms of—just to remind everyone, SYRIZA, which they’re calling far left and all the rest of that, actually campaigned on staying within the eurozone, not leaving it, but wanted to renegotiate the deal and not accept the current austerity plan and bailout plans.

LASCARIS: That’s right. In fact, it even—it moderated its language significantly during this campaign. Initially it said, in the lead-up to the May elections, which were far less conclusive than these, that it was going to tear up the bailout agreement. It then began to speak in terms of a very substantial renegotiation of the bailout agreement. But it has throughout the entire course of these two campaigns said quite adamantly that it wanted to stay, wanted Greece to remain within the eurozone.

JAY: So the majority vote was clearly rejecting the current deal, although it seems like you could say the majority vote is for staying in the eurozone. But the majority is against all these austerity measures. So what happens next? I mean, how is this any different than the results of the last election? Aren’t they back, isn’t Greece back in the same boat?

LASCARIS: Right. I think the key difference is that the two parties that have clearly evinced an intention to respect the bailout agreement, assuming that that, practically speaking, can be done, namely, New Democracy and PASOK, now have enough seats between them or appear to have enough seats between them to form a majority government. So were they minded to form a coalition together and alone, then they could have a majority in Parliament. The complication, the principal complication (it’s by no means the only one) that they confront, or at least that New Democracy confronts, is that PASOK is saying that it will not enter into coalition with New Democracy unless SYRIZA and the Democratic Left were to join. And it seems quite clear that SYRIZA has no interest in doing that. It probably—the Democratic Left would be somewhat less opposed to joining and may very well be prepared to do that if SYRIZA were prepared to do it, but I think there’s very little prospect of SYRIZA doing it.

Having said that, I think that this is all bluster and at the end of the day PASOK will capitulate, as it has repeatedly throughout the last several years, or since it most recently took power, to the demands of the EU. It will form a coalition, I expect, with New Democracy. And there will be an attempt—and I put it no higher than that—to respect the essential terms of the bailout agreement. But it’s my expectation, because those terms are so draconian, that ultimately that will fail and we’re going to find ourselves in a massive world of uncertainty very shortly, notwithstanding the fact that the EU elite and the governments of the United States and Canada got what they wanted, which is control of the Parliament by the pro-bailout parties in Greece.

JAY: Now, the anti-bailout vote, and particularly SYRIZA’s vote, kind of held up in the face of an enormous pressure campaign. What did that campaign look like?

LASCARIS: Well, I think that’s an important observation. I think, you know, for those of us to be clear and in the interests of full disclosure, I am, although not without reservations, a supporter of SYRIZA. I would have liked to have seen them form a majority government. And, you know, I and others who have that perspective are, of course, disappointed, but it is remarkable that notwithstanding the intense pressure applied on the Greek people, 58 percent of the vote went to anti-bailout parties.

And to give a few examples, you know, the president of the EU (Van Rompuy) and Barroso were saying quite clearly and almost on a daily basis leading up to the election that if Greeks elected parties that demanded a substantial renegotiation of the terms, then there would be no further aid coming from Greece—forthcoming from the EU to Greece. And this was—these statements were occurring, as I said, on a daily basis at the same time that the interim government in Greece was saying quite clearly that on July 15, in a matter of three weeks, the government was going to run out of money absent further aid from the EU. So, effectively, there was an economic gun pointed at the head of the Greek electorate.

And notwithstanding that fact—I mean, from the perspective of those of us who wanted to see a different outcome, it amounted to sheer economic blackmail—you see, nonetheless, 58 percent of the Greek people voting for anti-bailout parties. And I think that’s a testimony to the intense opposition within Greece to the savage austerity measures that have been imposed upon the Greek people and the severe depression that has now beset the economy.

JAY: So what do you think happens next? We assume PASOK is going to join the government and they’re going to—apparently, they’re sending some signals, some of the European leaders, that, well, maybe there’ll be some room to renegotiate, not really the substance, but maybe the timeline. They’re trying to put on a little bit better face on this. But in the final analysis, aren’t we back to a situation where the Greek government are going to be really incapable of getting the Greek people to go along with this, the austerity measures?

LASCARIS: Well, whatever the Greek people may or may not be prepared to do, there are two fundamental realities that remain, and today’s election has not altered them one iota. The first is that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. This country does not have the capacity to pay back the debt that it currently owes to its creditors. And it’s going to have to take—it’s going to have to default on that debt to a far more serious degree than it has up until now, and its creditors are going to have to take a far more substantial haircut than they’ve been willing to take until now. And the fact of the matter is that those losses have been realized. They’re just being, you know, swept under the rug. And it’s going to be better for the Greek people, better for the European banking system, better for Europe as a whole that the reality of Greece’s inability to pay back this debt be recognized. That’s not changed.

And the second reality that’s not gone away, notwithstanding the fervent wishes of the European elite, is that these austerity measures are a massive failure. Not only is Greece not growing, not only has the economy not recovered—in fact, the economy continues to decline and, in the most recent report of Greek unemployment, for example, is at Depression-era levels. It was already in excess of 20 percent. It has now gone in excess of 23 percent. That’s on a workforce-wide basis. Youth unemployment levels continue to exceed 50 percent. I mean, really a catastrophic economic situation in the country. By any stretch of the imagination, austerity must be deemed a failure.

And it’s not going to be sufficient, in my view, for the European—the EU leaders to moderate to a limited degree their austerity demands. There’s going to have to be radically new thinking of the way—of the means by which this crisis must be confronted, and I just don’t see that happening. So I think that ultimately this is going to do nothing more than buy Greece a few more days or months. It might not even be more than a few more hours. But eventually those two realities are going to resurface. It’s going to be in the near-term that they will resurface. The efforts of New Democracy and PASOK to steer a path through this crisis will ultimately fail. And at that stage, you know, what happens at that point is anybody’s guess. Hopefully, by that point in time the country will not have descended into chaos and anarchy and it will be possible to hold an election in peaceful conditions. But I fear that that might not be the case in two or three months’ time.

JAY: Last time—or one of the last interviews we did with you, you talked a bit about your sister and the village she lives in and how much society was deteriorating. What’s she at now? I mean, I should say, what’s the situation in the village, and what are her plans?

LASCARIS: Well, you know, the village, the conditions within her village, which is about an hour from Athens, reflect, I think, very much the conditions on a nationwide basis. You know, shops are closed everywhere, a very substantial proportion of the local population is out of work. Businesses have failed. Crime rates continue to escalate. People are living in a condition of extreme insecurity, both economically and physically—they fear for their physical—you know, for their lives.

And my sister, after much discussion with her husband, has decided that she’s going to give up on Greece. She has spent the last 15 years of her life there. She’s raised her four children there. All of them were born in Greece. And she’s going to be returning to Canada at the age of 51 years old this summer with her four children to start a new life. She’ll be coming back here, and I and other members of my family will be doing what we can to assist her. Her husband is going to be remaining behind, trying to figure out what to do with that expensive German machinery that he invested much of the family wealth in several years ago, and, hopefully, he’ll be in a position to come and join them sometime soon.

I can say that, you know, I think my sister’s leaving with mixed feelings. You know, this is the country in which she raised her children and where she went 15 years ago to start a new life. But she’s much relieved to be coming to a country where there’s some opportunity for her and her children to lead a relatively prosperous life.

JAY: And just finally, back to the politics of all this, so SYRIZA says they will not join the coalition. They say they can be better suited in opposition. And what do you make of the argument some people are giving that if SYRIZA didn’t have a really big majority in order to implement really alternative policies, in some ways this may be better for SYRIZA, ’cause if they had just squeaked in as the first party, they probably would have been in the middle of a mess anyway?

LASCARIS: Well, I think that this is actually the cynical reason for which PASOK is demanding the participation of SYRIZA in the current coalition, because if they don’t know, they certainly fear that any attempts to steer a path through the current crisis by means of continued and even more severe austerity is likely to fail, and they want SYRIZA to go down with the ship. And they know that if SYRIZA is in opposition, they may emerge from this entire crisis much stronger than they are in the current electoral climate. And that may be the silver lining to all of this, that ultimately it will enable SYRIZA to form a majority government and to do what, you know, the Greek leadership ought to have done many months ago, and that is to stand up to the EU and to say quite clearly that the austerity measures being imposed upon the Greek people are a failure, the debt is unsustainable, and a radically different path must be pursued in order for this crisis to be resolved.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Dimitri.

LASCARIS: My pleasure. Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at