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The crisis in Cyprus has established New Democracy as a driving force

27 May 2013 / 19:05:26  GRReporter
3374 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Last month’s polls in Greece reported a clear lead of the ruling New Democracy party and a drop in the support for the radical left SYRIZA. At the same time, PASOK is going down the ladder as regards the preferences of voters and the number of formations that are planning or creating former leading ministers in the party governments of the socialists is continuously increasing.

Researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP and author of the book "The Greek Crisis in the Media" George Tzogopoulos is talking with GRReporter about the political situation in Greece and the factors that are shaping it.

Mr. Tzogopoulos, as shown by recent polls, New Democracy has established itself as the first preference of Greek citizens despite the austerity measures adopted by the government. How would you comment on this?

I think that the crisis in Cyprus has made it clear that there is no alternative other than the policy pursued to tackle the crisis. Although the austerity measures are painful and unemployment is a very serious problem, the people realize that there is no other solution. Cyprus tried to show in a day that it could find funding from other sources – from Russia in this particular case. This attempt failed and Nicosia turned again to Brussels and adopted measures that are much more severe than those stipulated in the memorandum of economic support. This has shown to the Greek public that despite the inevitable rhetoric on alternatives in times of crisis, practically, there is nothing else except the policy that is being pursued at present. The people understand that it is the only possible policy for the country.

How would you comment on the simultaneous decline registered by the main opposition SYRIZA party? How do you see its future bearing in mind its future congress, at which, as report has it, the leader will remove some of the components of the coalition?
SYRIZA was the party of protest before last year’s elections. This was evident from the first elections in May 2012, when it received a very high percentage. This was not due to the fact that the party's programme had been approved but to the fact that the voters wanted to express their discontent with the politicians who had brought the country to this crisis.

Nevertheless, from the moment when the party found itself in the position of the main opponent of the government to date it has not been able to convince the public that it is a reliable alternative. This is the reason why it is now losing ground in the polls in favour of New Democracy. Moreover, it had not told the truth to the citizens before the elections and it has been following the only European path for the time being. In other words, the policy of SYRIZA is based mostly on denial of everything that is happening at present. At the same time, the party has no suggestions on how the situation can be improved. The citizens realize this and so, SYRIZA’s percentages in the polls are falling.

How do you see the developments inside the party? Different movements offer different solutions on many key issues. Can SYRIZA reach a united voice to address them?

It was clear even during the election period last year that SYRIZA had no single line even as regards the fundamental issue related to the probability of Greece exiting the euro zone. In addition to leader Alexis Tsipras, we heard many other voices for which our exit from the euro zone was not a taboo topic. I think that this is even clearer at present.

Bearing in mind the decreased percentages in the polls, I predict greater internal problems. It is because even the expectation of taking power is not able to bring a united voice in the party.

What will the loss of SYRIZA’s influence and the strengthening of other parties mean for Greece? I have in mind Golden Dawn because it has been the third political force in Greece for months.

Golden Dawn is a very serious problem for Greece. However, it is associated mainly with the ongoing economic crisis and history shows that in such times, the majority of people turn to political extremes.

So far, no solution to this problem has been found and so we can see the influence of Golden Dawn growing. This is very sad and is one of the main reasons why the perception of Greece abroad continues to be very negative.

I think that if the Greek economy recovers, new jobs are created and European Union funds are granted for small and medium businesses, an atmosphere of prosperity will be created. Many Greeks will realize then that they have no reason to vote for such parties. I think the Greek media are to be particularly blamed for the popularization of Golden Dawn, as they have not presented the total lack of arguments of the party and focused on the everyday stories of violence that its members exercise.

How do you see the role of PASOK in the changing political environment?

PASOK is the party for which the consequences of the events of the past few years have been the most negative. PASOK requested assistance from the International Monetary Fund, although before the elections in 2009, its members had claimed different things. Even the mere fact that the party is receiving rates of 5 per cent is indicative of the crisis that it is experiencing at present. Moreover, few voices in the party are stressing the need for the creation of new party formations.

I am not against such a possibility as long as these formations can unite people around them because it is impossible for every politician with a past in PASOK to be willing to create his own party in times of crisis. My opinion is that if they are able to work together, they will create a new main body of the left wing.

So, do you mean that you see PASOK dying as a party in its present form?

No, I do not think that this will happen. However, it is quite possible that structural changes could take place and for the party to change its name to incorporate the centre-left space. Perhaps this formation will be very different from what PASOK was in the period 2009-2010.

Do you think that the present leadership of the party is able to accomplish this?

I think that whatever the leadership of PASOK is, the burden on the party resulting from its choice to request assistance from the International Monetary Fund is so great that I do not think anything could be different. I do not think it is a matter of people, but of the policies which have been applied over the past three years and there is a reason for the citizens to express their dissatisfaction with the party. My opinion is that this is more to do with Greece's exit from the crisis rather than with person-oriented policies.

Today, the leaders of the ruling coalition met to discuss the probability of voting on or withdrawing the bill against racism. There are many differences between New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Left and racism is a very serious problem. Do you think that it is the most important issue right now since we see it almost threatening the unity of the government?

I think that over the past ten months, the government partners have experienced much more severe crises and managed to overcome them. I mean the budget cuts, which were adopted in October and November last year. I do not think that the unity of the coalition government is threatened now, despite the differences. These are three different parties and it is normal for differences to exist.

On the other hand, I still believe that the main way in which we can deal with racism is the preventive measures related to the social policy of the government.

The bill contains numerous steps in the right direction. But in times of crisis, such measures could give rise to severe reactions and this is something that scares me. Even if the bill is passed and if some of the measures contained therein are implemented, we cannot be sure how the voters will react at the next elections or whether Golden Dawn will decide to change its name. The problem should be eradicated, although the bill provides for many correct measures.

The congress of the liberal Drassi party was held over the weekend. The general impression is that the forces of reform find it difficult to create a common front. What should they do in order for their voice to reach a critical number of voters?

This would be very useful but the results of last year’s double elections are not encouraging for them. I think that the main reason why they are unable to attract a large number of supporters is the large number of small parties. If they could work together, obviously the result would be very different. In May 2012, 3-4 parties with almost identical platforms participated in the elections and none was able to enter parliament. If their leaders were able to step back and not care so much about the leadership positions in their parties and to achieve mutual cooperation, then they would be able to create a reformist formation, which could attract a large number of supporters. However, I do not think that this is possible under today's conditions.

How do you think that the situation in Greece will develop?

I think we are currently in a period of calm, especially after the return of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras from his visit to China. However, according to some commentators, this is not due so much to the progress of Greece but to the fact that Germany is trying to create an atmosphere of calmness in the markets in view of the elections in the country in October.

The big question now is whether this is indeed so or whether Germany is changing the course to granting the policy of budget cuts. In recent days, the international press, as in, for example, yesterday's interview with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, has indicated the need for a new policy. For the moment, however, it would be too hasty to draw any conclusions and we should wait until the elections in Germany in October.

Tags: PoliticsNew DemocracySYRIZAPASOKPollsGeorge TzogopoulosELIAMEP
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