Hard Left Syriza Wins Greek Election, Beginning Anti-Austerity Experiment

AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

The left wing anti-austerity party Syriza has won this weekend’s general election in Greece, securing 149 of the 300 Parliamentary seats available, leaving it just two short of an overall majority. The party has formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks and formed a government. The news pitched the Eurozone into fresh crisis, with the Euro hitting an all time low against the Pound and the Dollar.

Greece’s outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has struggled to hold Greece within the Eurozone, accepting crippling austerity measures from Brussels and Berlin in order to secure loans from the European community which have resulted in youth unemployment levels of 50 percent, and scenes of civil disobedience.

But Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, have argued that the cost is too high, standing on an electoral platform which includes negotiating to write off much of Greece’s debts and reverse austerity policies. They also plan to raise the minimum wage, recruit thousands of civil servants and deliver a new set of welfare reforms.

Following the news of his victory, Tsipras, whose son Ernesto is named after Ernesto “Che” Guevara, told a crowd at Athens University: “Our victory is of all the peoples of Europe who are struggling. I would like to assure you the new Greek government will be ready to co-operate and negotiate with our friends, with a just and useful solution so that Greece will return Europe to development and social stability and values like democracy and solidarity”

Samaras called Tsipras to congratulate him on the win, and told an audience of supporters: “We were obliged to take difficult steps. Mistakes were made but we avoided the worst. Above all I deliver a country that is a member of the EU and the euro. I told the truth to the Greek people to the very end.”

There has been widespread rejoicing in the streets by Syriza supporters, and left wing populist politicians across Europe have congratulated the radical party on their win. British Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted “hope has won”, and urged the EU to “listen to people” and “respond with debt forgiveness”.

Her party’s finance spokesman Molly Scott Cato, and Green MEP Keith Taylor, have released a joint statement calling for similar popular uprisings against governments to take place across Europe.

“Greens share the view of the new government that austerity is a failed model which has piled misery on the poorest while making the wealthiest even richer,” they said, adding “[…] we hope the Greek election result marks the beginnings of ordinary people standing up to a discredited economic model and failing Governments across Europe.”

Labour’s Peter Hain, a close ally of Ed Miliband was similarly delighted, saying before the results were announced: “I hope Syriza wins because it will be a big kick to the orthodoxy – the austerity – gripping most of Europe and most of the world, including Britain.”

But not everyone is so pleased with the outcome. The President of the Bundesbank Jens Weidmann urged Greece to stick to its current debt plan and spending reforms, telling Reuters: “I believe it’s also in the interest of the Greek government to do what is necessary to tackle the structural problems there. I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved.”

Berlin, along with the ‘Troika’ of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF have all warned that Greece’s €380 billion aid program, which amounts to around €28,000 per person, will be halted if austerity policies are reversed.

Holger Schmieding, at Berenberg Bank, said: “Europe will try to soften the blow at the edges, offering Tsipras time to come to terms with reality and some face-saving compromises to help him to explain the policy U-turn he will have to make for the sake of keeping Greece on the path of recovery.”

Fears that Greek default on their debt will inspire other countries within the Eurozone to attempt similar renegotiations have brought the stability of the currency into question. This morning the Euro hit an 11 year low against the dollar, trading at €1.1088 in Tokyo, and a seven year high against the pound, trading at £1.34.

Syriza has already managed to form a coalition with the Independent Greeks Party. Emerging from a meeting that was just two hours long, their leader Panos Kammenos told reporters: “I want to say, simply, that from this moment, there is a government. The Independent Greeks party will give a vote of confidence to the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. The prime minister will go to the president and … the cabinet make up will be announced by the prime minister. The aim for all Greeks is to embark on a new day, with full sovereignty.”

The party was formed by Kammenos in 2012 after he left the New Democracy party, Greece’s main centre-right party. The Independent Greeks marry policies calling for an end to multiculturalism and less immigration with anti-austerity policies. Upon the launch of the party, Kammenos proclaimed a “national awakening and uprising”, and said that Greece had fallen foul of an “international conspiracy”.

He hit the headlines again in December 2014 for claiming during a television interview that Jews don’t pay taxes. His comment came in the same week as far-left protesters opened fire on the Israeli embassy in Athens. A recent poll by the Anti-Defamation League has found that Greece has the highest percentage of people holding anti-Semitic views in Europe.