Founding member and EU parliamentary candidate Michalis Spourdalakis analyzes Syriza’s recent loss in the EU election and evaluates Syriza’s chances for staging a comeback
GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Greece is in the midst of a general election campaign at the moment with a vote scheduled for July 7th in the middle of Greece’s tourist season. Originally, parliamentary elections were scheduled for October of this year, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided to move them up three months because of the massive electoral defeat his party, SYRIZA, suffered in the European Parliamentary elections at the end of May. The governing leftist SYRIZA Party obtained only 23.7 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for the conservative party, New Democracy. Various issues are at stake in this election, including SYRIZA’s adherence to the European Union’s austerity program, its ongoing economic problems, and Greece’s agreement to allow Macedonia— now known as North Macedonia— to join the European Union.
Joining me now to discuss the upcoming general election in Greece is Michalis Spourdalakis. He’s a founding member of SYRIZA and was a candidate for the European Parliament in last month’s elections. He’s also Professor of Political Sociology at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens. Thanks for joining us today, Michalis.
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS Hello.
GREG WILPERT So, first of all, why move up the parliamentary elections if the regularly-scheduled ones were going to take place just three months later? Wouldn’t waiting until October have given SYRIZA more of a chance to campaign and to make up for ground that it had lost in the European Parliamentary election?
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS Yeah. I’m afraid that that’s the result of the way they campaigned during the European election that went. Everybody in Europe knows that the electoral campaign for the European Parliament is what we call as a second-class election campaign. Very rarely this campaign affects in a direct way, the national politics. In fact, quite often, the campaign is run on issues that are internal and not European issues and challenges. So SYRIZA made the mistake and the Prime Minister, it seems to me, made the mistake at the middle of the campaign in the last three weeks to turn the campaign— a complete head-on collision with New Democracy, claiming that this is a campaign that is a confidence vote for the citizens to the government, that the whole program achievements and completion of the austerity program that we had to perform in the last three and a half years. He elevated the campaign from second-class to first-class and called the campaign a referendum, etc.
When we had this result, and I explained to you why we had that huge defeat, 9.5 points of the popular vote, the difference between Democracy and this, there was no choice for him but to call an early election. Now, this defeat was the result of an anti-SYRIZA syndrome that has imposed into the public opinion thanks to a very, very well-oiled campaign of the entire opposition— both PASOK, the social democrats, and New Democracy. SYRIZA, for the longest time, found itself isolated from people outside SYRIZA, and everything that was happening in the country was SYRIZA’s fault— no historical reference, no difficulties coming from the country’s debtors, and so on and so forth. This isolation broke somehow when the government took the initiative and striked an agreement with North Macedonia, recognizing our neighboring country with a new name. So, some politicians, personalities, centrists, started to approach on this new division, and a new issue started to approach SYRIZA, and formed what is called the Progressive Coalition.
SYRIZA ran on a ticket of SYRIZA-Progressive Coalition. The ticket of SYRIZA was primarily 42 people who were on the ticket. About six of them, or maybe eight of them, were party members. The rest were individuals from other, smaller ex-members of other parties or personalities in the public sphere. The other mistake SYRIZA made was that, almost on the eve of the election, took the initiative to make a few increases in pensions and introduce several popular reforms. This was taken, or was understood, by part of the population as an insult to the integrity of the people. And so, of course, it was good for the lower-income pensioners to get an increase. However, if you do that at the eve of the election, it’s not quite proper and it was taken as an insult maybe to a lot of the nation and alienated a lot of people.
GREG WILPERT Michalis, but what about the New Democracy Party? It did surprisingly well in the parliamentary elections. Now, you mentioned various mistakes, but one of the mistakes, or not mistakes but one of the criticisms I guess, that New Democracy might have mentioned is the economic situation in Greece at the moment. Economic growth has been picking up, but unemployment remains very high at 18 percent. I’m just wondering, could that be part of the factors, as well? Or, why is it then that even though New Democracy was largely responsible for the economic crisis in the first place, of course one has to keep that into mind, so then why is it that they were able to make such tremendous gains in this last election? And what are their chances now for July 7th?
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS Well, I’m afraid that if one likes to explain the result of the election in terms of economic performance, I think economic performance played a very small part in the election this time around. It was the governmental style of SYRIZA. SYRIZA cadre, members of the parliament, and members of the government, appeared more and more acting like the old establishment, the old political establishment. That’s why a huge part of the people who voted SYRIZA four years ago, September 2015, they didn’t go to vote. They abstained. Only 58 percent of the people who voted for SYRIZA in the last general election, went to vote this time around. While New Democracy was gaining support from the smaller parties, the parties of the crisis— the River, the Independent Greeks, etc. SYRIZA had no other supporting pools to draw support, while almost 90 percent of the people who voted New Democracy in the last election went to vote. SYRIZA’s vote was only limited to 58 percent and a lot of people voted for one of the—I don’t know. There were 42 or 44 different smaller parties that participated in these European elections. So—
GREG WILPERT Now—
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS The economic performance, I might add this, is not so bad considering that we had an austerity program that we had to respect and follow and endure the government’s policies according to this. In four years, unemployment dropped, as you said, nine percentage points. That’s important. Also, SYRIZA overtaxed the traditional middle-class in an effort to support the people who were confronted with a humanitarian crisis. At the end, it appeared that SYRIZA was redistributing poverty. You’re right in saying that the growth in the economy was picking up. Things were looking better, and SYRIZA needed these extra four months to appear that they were entering more regular and calm waters, so to run a proper election. Unfortunately, with the effects of the defeat now, the prospects are not very good.
GREG WILPERT Now, former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was also Finance Minister under Alexis Tsipras in the first year that he was in office—
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS Six months, yeah.
GREG WILPERT He now created his own party, DiEM 25, and he only got about 3 percent of the vote last month, but he is now arguing that if ND wins—that is, New Democracy wins in July— SYRIZA would not be a real opposition party because it was the governing party that implemented EU-mandated austerity and privatization, which are basically the same things that he says ND would continue to do if it comes to power. Now, in other words, SYRIZA would not be able to offer a real alternative, according to Varoufakis. What’s your response to that argument?
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS Well, the talented Yanis Varoufakis— talented in terms of communication and I imagine he’s a very good teacher. He is a member of my school at the university. He has a tendency to say a lot of things that quite often are contradictory. Along with what you just said, also he promised that he is going to collaborate with New Democracy if New Democracy ends up with a minority government at the end of this campaign. So, I’m not going to comment on this. It’s very contradictory in what they say. It’s true, however, that a small part of the old leftists who supported SYRIZA, the descent of SYRIZA, the disappointed people of SYRIZA, a small percentage is going to vote for him. I’m not sure, though, that he is going to get or surpass the 3-percent threshold to enter the parliament.
GREG WILPERT Okay. We’re going to leave it there for now, but I’m sure we’re going to come back to you as we get closer to the election and after the election. I was speaking to Michalis Spourdalakis, founding member of SYRIZA and Professor of Political Sociology at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens. Thanks again, Michalis, for having joined us today.
MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS Signing off from the office. Thank you for having me.
GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.