Greece: On the road to chaos

7 May 2012 – I Kathimerini (Athens)

On May 6, the Greeks heavily punished the two traditional parties, who implemented the austerity programme, and let the radical left and far-right parties come into force into the Parliament. This result could lead to a powerless government and even violence, fears a columnist.

The Greeks voted with an eye on yesterday and they opened the door to tomorrow. Wishing to return to an ideal age – where they could escape from the demands of our partners and creditors – the voters destroyed the two-party political system, fragmented the centre and brought the extremes into the heart of developments. Last night's result did not leave much room for the formation of a coalition by any section of the new Parliament – neither by the parties who abide by the loan agreement nor by those who constitute the “no” front.

If new elections were called immediately it is not at all certain that New Democracy and Pasok would claw back any of their old power (up until 2009, they shared more than 80 percent of the vote, whereas yesterday they got barely 35 percent combined). With at least seven parties in Parliament and none gaining more than 20 percent, our politicians will have to face three major challenges: they must learn to cooperate on equal terms, without any one party forming a strong pole, without any one party trying to gain an advantage over another; they must deal with the neo-nazi Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn], which is now in Parliament; they must find a way to be credible partners in talks with our creditors, now that the Pasok-ND government under Lucas Papademos is gone.

Opening the door on tomorrow

Our society, which is also not in the habit of cooperating and compromising, will face strong challenges from the rise of Syriza and other leftist parties, and from Chrysi Avgi. Although they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both sides have something in common – a lack of respect for the establishment and deep hatred of each other.

If Syriza's rise leads to even greater interventions by the leftists in universities and other spheres of public life, then it is possible that the “troops” of leftists and anarchists will clash in the streets with the black shirts of Chrysi Avgi. Without a strong government to give them orders and support them, it is likely that the police will avoid getting involved in this rivalry, increasing citizens' insecurity further and perhaps leading to even greater political fragmentation.

It is not surprising that Pasok and, to a lesser extent, New Democracy paid the price for the austerity program, but such a large drop in their support was not expected. Now the time has come to test the theories of those who believe that Greece can set terms to our creditors and that we can make it on our own if our creditors pull out. This mindset has its roots in the behavior of Andreas Papandreou, who founded Pasok and dominated Greek politics in the 1980s. This populism has shaped our public debate since then. Now Pasok and New Democracy are its victims: although they exploited populism shamelessly, they were defenseless against it when others turned it on them.

Yesterday's elections destroyed the political system of the past 38 years. They opened the way for new forces and showed the need for cooperation, both before the elections and after. If our politicians and all those who are involved in public life did not learn their lesson yesterday, we will fall into a cycle of conflict that will only end in catastrophe.

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