Greece’s austerity election

New Left Review 76, July-August 2012

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Across most of Europe and North America, the two-party system of alternating centre-left and centre-right governments has so far largely managed to absorb the political fall-out from the 2008 financial crisis. Despite high unemployment, savage public-spending cuts and stagnant economies, the process of ousting the incumbents—as in Britain, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France—or rallying to support a lesser against a greater evil, has operated as a sufficient safety valve for citizens’ discontents, even though the policies of the mainstream parties are now almost indistinguishable. To date it is only in Greece, where the economic disaster has been most far-reaching, that the two-party system has collapsed altogether, leading to new mass-political alignments. Here, the centre-left pasok and centre-right New Democracy had dominated the political scene since the ‘regime change’ to representative democracy—the Metapolitefsi—following the 1967–74 military dictatorship. But in the elections of 6 May 2012, after two years in which both pasok and nd had committed themselves to the austerity measures of the eu–ecb–imf Memoranda of Agreement, no party managed to score more than 19 per cent of the vote. In this fragmented landscape, attempts to piece together a working majority fell short. A further election was therefore called, six weeks later.

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