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PORTSIDE  February 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE February 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Greek Left Has Most Support But is Fragmented

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Sat, 18 Feb 2012 15:44:49 -0500

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Greek Left Has Most Support But is Fragmented

By Kerin Hope in Athens
Financial Times
February 14, 2012

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e409bf80-5733-11e1-be25-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1mUqJpHNf

With his stylish haircut, sharp suits and BMW motorbike
parked outside parliament, Alexis Tsipras cuts an
striking figure in Greek politics.

His defiant message underscores the reservations of
Greece's triple-A rated eurozone creditors, who on
Tuesday night postponed signing off on the new bail-
out, fearing it would only be derailed, like its
predecessor, by the country's fractious politicians and
mounting social unrest.

Television footage of blazing buildings in the centre
of Athens, set on fire by extremists on Sunday night,
served to highlight the growing instability the country
faced after four straight years of recession amounting
to a cumulative contraction of 14 per cent of output.

Greece has already announced a snap general election in
April to pick a government that will implement a tough
medium-term austerity programme demanded by its
creditors, aiming at restoring modest growth by the end
of 2013.

The conservative New Democracy party under Antonis
Samaras is the frontrunner, according to opinion polls,
though with voter support at about only 30-33 per cent
it would fail to win an outright majority.

The new government is, therefore, likely to unite the
country's two main political forces, New Democracy and
the pro-reform remnants of the PanHellenic Socialist
Movement (Pasok), which is undergoing wrenching change
after 18 months of failing in government to pull the
country back from the brink of default.

"There is a potential coalition of the old-established
parties," says Loukas Tsoukalis, head of Eliamep, an
Athens think-tank. "It follows a growing realisation
among voters of what is at stake."

Mr Samaras, previously a harsh critic of policies
imposed by the European Union and International
Monetary Fund, is expected to sign up to the bail-out
after making a policy U-turn in recent weeks.

He backed the new austerity programme in Sunday's
parliamentary vote, then expelled from the party 21
conservative lawmakers who broke ranks and joined
leftwing deputies opposed to the new package. Twenty
socialist deputies also voted against reform and were
summarily ejected from Pasok by former premier George
Papandreou.

The protest vote will also be strong at an election,
with Greeks expected to register their anger at soaring
unemployment and new taxes either by abstaining or by
backing formerly marginal parties.

Opinion polls show combined backing for the Democratic
Left, the Greek Communist party (KKE) and Syriza at 42
per cent - well ahead of any single party. But the
three groups are too deeply divided by ideology and
personal rivalries to consider teaming up in a
coalition government, according to analysts.

Despite Mr Tsipras's high profile, Syriza remains the
smallest of the leftwing parties, partly reflecting
concerns over its alleged ties with extremist leftwing
groups accused of inciting violence against political
opponents.

The Socialists have taken the biggest hit according to
polls, with Pasok currently in fifth place with 8-10
per cent. Yet analysts suggest they could double their
support once the battle is over to succeed Mr
Papandreou, who has already said he will stand down as
leader.

Evangelos Venizelos, the finance minister who has
overseen Greece's contribution to the adjustment
programme, is poised to take over after rallying a
group of pro-European reformers, including several
possible leadership rivals, behind him.

"We could see Pasok recovering to win 18 to 20 per cent
at the election," Mr Tsoukalis said.

"We have seen opinion polls in the past showing a
strong protest vote for the left - but then people
return at the actual election."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012

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