Greece: New Elections after Governmental Failure

The last three days of negotiations and conducts under the Greek President Karolos Papoulias, after E. Venizelos of PASOK surrendered his mandate at Saturday 12th, have led to critical developments in the Greek crisis and the attempt to find a governmental solution. Some of them make a comic impression, but this does not prevent them from being potentially very dangerous for the Greek people. Yet the overall result, the failure to form a government and calling of new elections to be held in June 17th may, under certain conditions, offer a real hope to the Greek people.

An “ecumenical government”?

President Papoulias, himself a conservative politician coming from PASOK, concentrated initially his efforts to the formation of an “ecumenical government” supported by PASOK, New Democracy, Democratic Left and SYRIZA. At the Sunday meeting of the three political leaders, Samaras, Venizelos, and Tsipras (Kouvelis was not present), he showed an unofficial and unsigned (!) note by Lukas Papadimos, the former Prime Minister, who made a very pessimistic presentation of the economic situation, predicting the collapse of the Greek state and an inability to fulfill its obligations during June.

This was utilized to press for a government with the participation of SYRIZA as well as the three other parties as a “national need”. PASOK and New Democracy posed as willing to accept even a left government formed by SYRIZA and the Democratic Left, to which they would lend support without participating. However, such a government would in fact make SYRIZA a hostage to the other parties, since New Democracy and PASOK alone have 149 seats in Parliament, and the Democratic Left is much closer to them than to SYRIZA.

This attempt failed due to SYRIZA’s well-founded negative response, a position also taken by Panos Kammenos of the Independent Greeks, who declared he could not accept an informal paper as a basis to take political decisions.

It became thus clear that there was no real prospect of an “ecumenical government” being formed. After this, the efforts of the presidency turned to the formation of a non-political, technocratic government of the Monti type, which was proposed by the New Democracy leader, A. Samaras. Forming such a government would mean a further break from democratic rules and procedures than that made by the former Papadimos government. Moreover, in the severe situation facing Greece, it would definitely result in a total failure, since there is not the dimmest prospect of stabilizing it in a technocratic way even temporarily, as in Italy.

This attempt also failed due to the insistence of the Democratic Left that it would not consent to any solution unless SYRIZA also lent it support, which SYRIZA refused to do.

The Sunday events gave a chance to Samaras, Venizelos, and Kouvelis (those three had a joint meeting before the President later at ?onday evening) to accuse SYRIZA for taking an irresponsible and irreconcilable stance, not in accord with the grave situation and the will of the people. However hearing such accusations from the spokesmen of the former two big parties, who had been stuck for decades to an arrogant one-party administration, makes an ironic impression.

In fact, arrogance characterized the stance of the two ruling parties, which, despite their modest phraseology, were insisting on a solution prolonging their domination. Their hidden intention was to draw SYRIZA to a kind of government that would differ only insignificantly from the past memorandum governments. In this way they would make SYRIZA pay for the failure to get out of the crisis and, most importantly, avoid the “dangerous” prospect of a further radicalization and increasing protests by the people, of which recent elections gave much promise. The Democratic Left reproduced these claims as a result of its “ministerialism”, aiding in fact the reactionary plans with a left oratory.

All three parties, PASOK, New Democracy and the Democratic Left, were totally unwilling to form a government without SYRIZA, based on their sole support. They judged correctly that if they proceeded this way, the government would not stand long and their parties would face annihilation in any new elections.

A government of the right?

After the prospects of a ND-PASOK-DL-SYRIZA government had faded, attention shifted suddenly during Monday to the possibility of forming a government supported by New Democracy, PASOK and the Independent Greeks of Panos Kammenos. This in fact would be a government of the right, like the former Papadimos one, with the Independent Greeks taking the part of LAOS. It would be even weaker, since it would possess a much slimmer majority in a more severe situation.

The formation of such a government would clearly be more difficult than the ND-PASOK-DL one, since Kammenos in the pre-election period took a much harder “anti-memorandum” stance than the Democratic Left. He supported an immediate and unilateral denunciation of the memorandum, as compared to the “renegotiation” and “gradual disengagement” of Kouvelis. Kammenos formulated 7 conditions in order to take part in a government, which repeated the demand for unilateral denunciation, coupled with the nationalization of the Central Bank of Greece, the demand for a debt audit and some other points which the two former big parties had avoided for years and were not really ready to accept. Moreover, Kammenos would evidently have a great problem in justifying to his voters such a dramatic turn, and judging from the fate of LAOS and the fact that his newly founded party lacks any tradition and firm mass support, he would run an obvious danger of being smashed in next elections, perhaps after some months. This explains why the prospect of the right government had not appeared in former discussions and was not considered realistic by most commentators.

However Kammenos left open the question of such a government during his visit to president Papoulias, calling it an “ecumenical” one. Later on both Samaras and Venizelos consented to discussing the Kammenos 7 points, a fact indicative of the severe pressure exerted by the European Union for the formation of a government and avoidance of new elections. Kammenos agreed to visit President Papoulias today in the morning, to be supposedly presented with the official information he was asking about the economic situation. There were even rumors about the position of Prime Minister in the designed government being taken by Vasilios Markezinis, the son of Spyros Markezinis (a reactionary politician who became Prime Minister in the Papadopoulos junta in 1973) and an ardent nationalist reactionary himself.

Things began to become more interesting, however, when the Presidency made public the minutes of Papoulias’ talks with the political leaders. It was revealed that, together with his 7 conditions, Kammenos had delivered to the President a paper referring to the possible governmental scenarios which differed significantly from his official and open proposals.

Kammenos had categorically refused he was taking part in any secret negotiations, insisting that the Independent Greeks are making everything in daylight. This paper clearly exposed his lie, revealing the decay of the political establishment. Kammenos reacted to the publication of the minutes by saying that this paper was not knowingly delivered by him to the President, not denying thus its authenticity but implying it was not official and got accidentally mixed with his 7 point proposals, offering at the same time an alternative explanation that it could had been fabricated. Yet the whole thing exposed him severely and will definitely cost him politically. The immediate result was the cancelation of his private encounter with President Papoulias today, which in effect meant the failure of the right government prospect as well.

It should not be left unmentioned, by the way, that a part of the establishment media, not the mainline ones but those which already support the ultra-right, pressed Kammenos strongly to avoid consenting to any government, on whatever conditions it were to be formed. This includes the right, completely yellow “Extra 3 Chanel” and the notorious populist journalist George Tragas. It seems that these circles, pondering on the lack of cooperation within the left, already consider that a further aggravation of the crisis in the next few months will help in the long run the ultra-right. Kammenos, who enjoyed much of their support, had to appear at Monday night in Tragas’ TV news , to excuse himself clumsily for his vacillations.

KKE leadership hardens its sectarian, adventurist stance

Throughout the whole course of events, KKE retained its ultra-sectarian stance, repeating its position that a left government would be equally harmful to the people as a government of the right. Aleka Papariga, the KKE General Secretary, restated this at a KKE mass gathering held in Athens at the Pedion Areos Square at Monday.

However, A. Papariga’s statements at her Sunday meeting with President Papoulias are the most indicative, allowing everyone to form an idea about the real content of the KKE position, which in fact directly serves the Greek ruling classes. During her discussion with the President, Papariga did not only limit herself to denouncing as a “demagogy” the prospect of a left government. Surpassing anything else the KKE had said until then, she even went so far as to urge for a direct legitimization of Mihaloliakos, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party leader.

During the discussion, President Papoulias, mentioning the former example of the cooperation between KKE and the other left forces in 1989, set Papariga the question: “Didn’t you consider the idea to make a similar coalition?”

Papariga’s answer to that was: “Not now. This is a different phase, another question, another object. It cannot be compared. We are facing now a crisis and a crisis cannot be overcome by funny things”.

Why coalitions can be formed only in good occasions and not in times of crisis and why a coalition with SYRIZA would be by definition “funny” was the secret of the KKE General Secretary, which she did not consider appropriate to reveal to the Greek people.

Sensing the absurdity of her assertions, Papariga went on to recall hypocritically the heroic example of Dimitris Christoulas, the same Christoulas which the KKE scorned when he committed suicide at Syntagma, presenting him as a coward and avoiding mention his message and even his name in “Rizospastis”, the official KKE organ.

“Had we decided, having become crazy – which luckily we are not –”, Papariga declared, “and said such things to the people, that we will form a government and solve their problems, I would prefer – I say – to go like Christoulas, to go to commit suicide at Syntagma with a gun”. The reason she would do that, she explained, is that those who propose such things “are fooling the people” and that “with the people at home waiting for things to be fixed by others” no real change can be made. Why a left government would have people stay at home and not call them to actively take part in the struggle to change things, was again the secret of A. Papariga.

Papariga kept her biggest show however for the end, when the problem of whether Mihaloliakos would take part at the Tuesday political leaders’ council under the President came up. All other leaders, including Samaras of New Democracy and even Kammenos, had excluded that possibility. Papariga surprised the President by stating that she would not only readily accept Mihaloliakos’ participation, but even him standing beside her at the meeting.

She said that she would not like it, of course, but “I cannot say ‘I do not sit [with him]’. If it becomes necessary, we will all sit together. What can we do?” Papariga mentioned that KKE party members urged her not to take part if Mihaloliakos was called, but declared that she did not consider it her duty to protest, as Tsipras and Kouvelis had already done, because Golden Dawn was voted by the people. If she took such a stance, she added, the result would be “to strengthen them [the neo-Nazis]. You cannot exclude them”.

This Papariga statement was in fact a monument of political naivety and servility to reaction. The Golden Dawn party is largely based on its para-state organization and connections with security forces. It may have gained a success in recent elections, but the big majority of the Greek people are still antifascist, understanding that the neo-Nazi gangs represent a threat to democracy and to their political freedoms. To call for accepting Mihaloliakos at the leaders’ council, as Papariga urged, means in fact to offer Mihaloliakos democratic credit, and help the neo-Nazis gain acceptance from a bigger part of the people.

Papariga not only failed to understand this, but was so naive as to relate to the President the answer she gave to the party members who urged her to avoid Mihaloliakos. “I told them “Well, guys, we will be side by side, if the President puts me near him [i.e. Mihaloliakos] what will I say, that I do not sit?”

To which President Papoulias commented with just one word: “Lovely!”

Papoulias is a former left who had taken part in the National Resistance movement and posed as progressive, before offering his services to the system. He is moreover a clever person. He could not fail therefore to notice the glaring contradiction in Papariga’s position, on the one hand declaring that she will not take part in a left government in order not to betray the people, and on the other hand accepting readily to stand side by side with Mihaloliakos, if the President said so. This was in fact the meaning of his comment.

All this goes to reveal the stance of the KKE leadership as a reactionary stance, which directly aids the system close its holes and even openly helps the ultra-right. Let us mention by the way that Papariga eventually did not take part in the Tuesday council of political leaders, perhaps in protest for not calling Mihaloliakos as well…

The final act

The final act of the present episode of the Greek drama took place at the meeting held before President Papoulias at 2 o’clock today, Tuesday 15th. All leaders of parliamentary parties participated, except, as already mentioned, Mihaloliakos of the Golden Dawn and Papariga of the KKE. The meeting failed to reach an agreement on forming a government, along any of the lines proposed during these last days. This means that the country is heading towards new elections. They will take part in June, being open to a variety of regroupings and results, although a further strengthening of SYRIZA is considered very probable. The former governing parties, together with the Democratic Left will try to blame SYRIZA for the failure to form a government, thus reducing its dynamic; while SYRIZA will counter that it justly refused to become part of the memorandum front. Clearly, strong dilemmas will be put to the people, which means that smaller parties, especially strongly defeated ones like PASOK and, objectively, KKE, will find it difficult to repeat their results of the May 6th elections.

Irrespective of the new elections result, though, it has become patently clear that the Greek crisis is deepening and there is no easy way out. Greece has a long tradition of dictatorships during the 20th century, including those of Pangalos (1925), Metaxas (1936) and the colonels led by Papadopoulos (1967). Comments are appearing already in the foreign press that this might be also the outcome of the present anomaly. However, these comments are made with the obvious aim to terrorize the people and affirm that the only possible way for Greece is prolonging the austerity policies, as many leading European politicians asserted during the last two days. In fact, the ruling classes are not yet ready to impose a dictatorial solution, which is made more difficult by international conditions as well as the radicalization of the Greek people towards the left.

Odds are that during the following months a chance for the formation of a government of the left will appear. This government, the concrete form of which, the parties participating, etc., cannot be foreseen now, will not have an easy task to solve. In the best case, it may help Greece avoid passing the worst part of Argentina’s experience in 2001 and find a way out of this crisis with the least cost by mobilizing the people. But a left government might also come after a bankruptcy and as a result of the country’s passing from a bloody unrest and turmoil. It is the task of responsible radical left forces in Greece to do everything they can to channel things towards the first direction but also be ready for the second.

The establishment of a left government in Greece could be the sign for a broader radicalization in other European countries as well. The fear with which the ruling classes react to this prospect makes clear it is a valid prospect, which may not lead to a direct overthrow of capitalism, but will mean a big step forward.

If however the government of the left fails to materialize or be followed properly, then all kinds of dangers from the ultra-right and the right will become intensified. The future of Greece will darken and the left upsurge in Europe will receive a lesser impetus. In this respect, exposing and defeating the adventurist stance of the KKE leadership is perhaps the most urgent task of the Greek left. For if this stance persists the possibilities of a left government will be drastically reduced or even nullified.

Christos Kefalis is a Greek Marxist, editor of the journal Marxist Thought. Read other articles by Christos.