Will SYRIZA Survive Sunday’s Election?

Harry Konstantinidis of U. Mass, Boston says that the SYRIZA base is disappointed, the youth are feeling demobilized and inactive, and the Sunday election will be a close call

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

When Alexis Tsipras, the former prime minister of Greece resigned on August 20, it triggered Greece’s fifth general election in six years. Tsipras was forced to hold a snap election after serving just seven months as prime minister after two major votes on the bailout agreement implied a de facto nonconfidence in the Tsipras-led Syriza government. The first vote followed the Oxhi referendum on July 5, in which 39 of the 149 Syriza MPs voted against the agreement. They were honoring the outcome of the referendum. Then on August 14, when he presented the prior actions required to seal the deal for the 86 billion euro, 44 Syriza MPs said no. Nevertheless, parliament still approved the deal and the measures with support from other parties.

What resulted was a heated party meeting between those who supported Alexis Tsipras saying he had no choice, and those that wanted to exit the euro, default on the debt, and form a new economy in Greece. This forced a split in the Syriza party. The Left Platform camp formed the Unity Party headed by the former energy minister, Lafazanis. The elections will take place now on Sunday. According to Reuters, four opinion polls released on Thursday underline the tightness of Greece’s election campaign. It showed the left Syriza party of former prime minister Alexis Tsipras and the conservative New Democracy party of Vangelis Meimarakis within spitting distance of each other.

Now joining me to discuss all of this is Harry Konstantinidis. He is a political economist and is currently an assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Thank you so much for joining us, Harry.

HARRY KONSTANTINIDIS: Good to be with you.

PERIES: Harry, so let me begin by asking you, what happened to Syriza? Now, they were very popular, leading in the polls. Even after the referendum they had more than 80 percent support of the populace. Now, what happened to the party?

KONSTANTINIDIS: What happened to the party is that Syriza rhetoric and Syriza support came from its pledge to end austerity. So when Syriza started rising after 2012 its motto and its guiding idea was that it would put an end to austerity. This is what made Syriza be the first party in the European elections in 2014, and this is what gave Syriza approximately 37 percent of the vote in the January 2015 elections. Now, I think that most of us have followed the exchange between the Greek government and its lenders over the last seven months. And we have seen that this pledge to end austerity ended up with a defeat of Syriza. So Syriza did not manage to end austerity. In the end, Syriza capitulated to the demands of its European lenders and the IMF as well. And Syriza ended up signing a third structural adjustment program for Greece, what we call a memorandum, with its lenders, a bailout package, in August of 2015.

So this is what happened. It pledged to end austerity, ended up with a capitulation. And the people who supported Syriza because they really, really thought Syriza would manage to end austerity are now disappointed and disillusioned.

PERIES: So do you think that the 61-point-some percent that supported and said no to the referendum is now split among the various parties?

KONSTANTINIDIS: First of all, let’s see what the referendum was. I mean, the referendum clearly had a very significant class content. We saw that significant parts of the population especially in working class areas voted no in the Greek referendum. Now, where are these people now. It’s difficult to actually point our finger on what these people are going to vote for right now. Greek polls and Greek opinion polling is extremely unreliable, as we’ve seen over the last few months.

To some extent those who voted no because they wanted a break with the eurozone are not going to vote for Syriza anymore. Some others who voted no thinking that Syriza could manage to negotiate a better deal may still vote for Syriza, but we clearly have a significant part of disillusioned voters among the 61.4 percent of the population. And also a significant part of the 61.4 percent is just not going to vote. I think that’s the other thing that we should expect to see in Sunday’s election. We should expect to see a lot of people abstaining.

PERIES: Now offline, Harry, we were talking about how some of the young people are feeling disillusioned by all of this, feeling let down, especially those who adamantly supported Syriza just seven months ago in January during the election. How is the youth wing of the Syriza party now faring, and how are they feeling at this time?

KONSTANTINIDIS: Well, actually this is a good point. People mostly focus on the fact that Syriza was split between those who stayed in Syriza and those who formed this new party, Popular Unity. But I think more importantly we have to pay attention to the fact that a significant part of the Syriza voters and the Syriza activists are not active anymore, are demobilized.

So I think as you mentioned, the Syriza youth was one of the most dynamic parts of Syriza. It was part of what created the energy and the enthusiasm around Syriza in the January elections. They were crucial in terms of canvassing for the referendum to go the way that it went. And as far as we know, as far as we can see, a significant part of the Syriza youth is now just not active. If I remember correctly approximately 40 people of the central council of the Syriza youth resigned and basically said, we are not–we’re going to be present in the future fight, but we are not going to support Syriza in this particular [inaud.]

So this is actually a very significant development because it shows the disillusionment, it shows the lack of enthusiasm, and it makes for a very subdued mood around the September 20 elections.

PERIES: And what do you make of the polls making such a close, tight race between several of the parties? Not just Syriza and New Democracy, but also showing a tight race among the other parties. So what do you make of that, and what do you think of what’s going to happen on Sunday?

KONSTANTINIDIS: First of all let me start by saying that we have seen over the last year that opinion polling in Grace is notoriously unreliable. So I do think what we see is that there is disappointment among the Syriza voters, and that makes for very low turnout and very low enthusiasm, and that actually is being reflected in the polls.

The important element, I think, is that given the level of disappointment with Syriza it would be very hard for Syriza even if it wins to form a stable government. So in all likelihood Syriza is going to require the support of one or more likely, perhaps two smaller parties. And if the polls are correct, and some of the polls show that the previous minor coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, are going to have a hard time entering the parliament which would make, which would force Syriza even if it were to be the first party to seek out a coalition with either PASOK, a previous socialist party that [reigned] Greece for approximately 30 years, or the centrist neoliberal POTAMI.

In both cases these would be very unstable alliances. These would really constrain Syriza in terms of what it could do, even for it to be the leading party. And that would make I think for a very unstable political landscape in Greece.

PERIES: And as far as the Popular Unity party, the former Left Platform of Syriza, where are they faring in the polls, and is there a chance of Syriza having to reach out to them to form a government?

KONSTANTINIDIS: They are faring, in most of the opinion polls that I’ve seen, they are faring at approximately 4-6 percent of the vote. Again, let’s not take this at face value. We don’t know what–I mean, Sunday’s only a few days away, so we’ll see.

Now, the relationship between Syriza and Popular Unity. I think it has become clear they may be able to find some common ground on different policies, but they wouldn’t be able to form a coalition government given the commitment of Syriza to actually carry out the structural adjustment program and given the [start] position of the Popular Unity party to the structural adjustment program, it would be extremely unlikely that the two parties would come together and form a government.

We’ll see. I think that we will see–actually, it’s interesting to see how the Popular Unity party is going to fare because it also gives us a sense of what the part of the population is that actually would be willing to leave the euro, which we’ve never seen a party actually come out and very explicitly say, we want to leave the euro. So that will be something to watch out for.

PERIES: Harry, and finally, given several conditions that are going on in Greece with the refugee crisis, the difficulties in terms of the economy and people’s livelihood as well as their standard of living having dramatically declined, due to all these reasons it seems to me that the right wing Golden Dawn party has become emboldened, is there trying to take advantage of this current situation. And they’re also gaining in popularity. What do you make of that?

KONSTANTINIDIS: I think that–I don’t know again if this is going to be shown in the polls on Sunday. I can only say that this would be a natural outcome of the way that the Greek mainstream if you will, and I would also even put Syriza in the mainstream here, the democratic parties in Greece have been completely discredited by the European Commission, by the European Union, by the Eurogroup and by the IMF. The natural consequence of the way that Greece was treated over the last few months would be to embolden the neofascist, neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn.

I don’t think we should be surprised. We will see how strong they will become. They have clearly come out a little bit stronger over the last few weeks. I was watching the news today in Greece and they are now claiming murders for the first time. They’re claiming the political responsibility for a murder. That’s another step of, of being [outrageous].

PERIES: Harry, we’ll be following this issue on Sunday and I think you so much for joining us today.

KONSTANTINIDIS: Thank you for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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