The result of the May 21 national election saw victory for the traditional party of the Greek ruling class, New Democracy (ND), and a crushing defeat for SYRIZA, the main party of the left over the last decade.
This is despite the illegal wiretapping scandal that has long plagued the ND regime, and the recent tragic Tempi train derailment in February (a consequence of corruption and mismanagement) that provoked massive anger against the government. How can we explain the outcome?
It is perfectly understandable that, following these elections, there has been a mood of frustration among large sections of workers and the left. However, we should emphasise that, in the last analysis, elections are always only a snapshot of the social consciousness at a given moment.
Moreover, some of the results, especially the remarkable rise of the Communist Party (KKE), particularly among the working class, show the polarisation and a growing desire for a true left-wing alternative. This is not the time for pessimism and complacency, but a time for rallying the left forces to repel the threat of a vicious ND majority government in June!
No substantial gains for the right
Despite the extreme pessimism prevailing in some layers of the left, the total vote share for right-wing parties and formations did not increase substantially from the previous election, adding up to about 49.83 percent. In the national elections of 2019, the total vote share of right and far-right was 48.46 percent, i.e., almost the same. Furthermore, the performance of the right and far-right has been far weaker amongst the young, and in working-class areas.
The extreme right, not counting the very small vote share (around 1.5 percent) for opportunistic, anti-vaccine formations (Unite, Kinima 21, Free Again) saw its support increase slightly from about 7.62 percent in 2019 to 8.66 percent in May 2023.
The Greek Solution, led by demagogue Kyriakos Velopoulos, rose from 3.7 percent, 209,000 votes and 10 seats in 2019, to 4.45 percent, 262,000 votes and 16 seats. It owes this rise almost exclusively to the almost 40,000 votes it received from the openly fascist (and now illegalised) Golden Dawn.
The far-right religious party, Niki, with 2.92 percent and 172,000 votes, just barely failed to enter parliament. This relatively strong result was due to the active support provided by parts of the Greek right-wing, reactionary, Orthodox Church.
Nevertheless, the general assessment is that the far right will continue to be unable to play an independent role within the bourgeois political camp and will remain a complementary force, always useful to the ruling class for parliamentary support for its ruling parties.
Why did New Democracy win?
New Democracy received 40.79 percent of the vote, amounting to almost 2.4 million votes and 146 (out of 300) seats in the parliament (outperforming the pollsters’ predictions); compared to 39.8 percent, 2.25 million votes and 158 seats in 2019 (at the time, the electoral system in place gave a bonus of 50 seats to the first party).
The increase in the forces of ND by almost 1 percent does not reveal a substantial gain for the traditional party of capital. Instead, it illustrates a strong tendency of petty-bourgeois layers re-rallying to ND. In 2019, ND received a percentage of 38.4 percent among freelancers, while on May 21, it received an impressive 51.9. The same trend is seen among farmers and ranchers, among whom ND received an equally impressive 47.5 percent.
The victory can partly be explained by the relative stabilisation of the Greek economy over the past couple of years, from the extremely desperate position it has been in since 2015 (when SYRIZA capitulated to the diktats of the Troika and carried out draconian EU-mandated austerity), and from immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Greece, alongside other European countries, has also been hit by inflation, the impact has been somewhat blunted by EU-wide fiscal easing and one-time state benefits. This will certainly cause an intensification of the crisis down the road, but in the short term, ND was able to point to a degree of economic stability.
This relative stabilisation bolstered ND’s support amongst the middle-classes, but it was a different story for workers and the youth. Amongst these layers, ND received a lower result than its national percentage. It got 31.5 percent among 18-24-year-olds; and in majority working-class constituencies such as the B2 West Sector of Athens and B Piraeus, it got 34.46 percent and 37.46 percent respectively.
The main pool of new voters for ND that gave it a marginal increase were not the working-class voters from the left, but conservative, older centre-right voters coming from the so-called centre-left alliance PASOK-KINAL, who consider ND their natural political home. According to the exit polls, there were more than 60,000 such voters.
The general electoral result of ND is closer, not to all-time highs, but some of the party’s lowest percentages in the decades after the fall of the dictatorship. It is similar to the number of votes that ND got under K. Karamanlis when it was defeated by the PASOK of G. Papandreou in 2009 (around 2.3 million).
The causes of the collapse of SYRIZA
The main phenomenon highlighted by the results of 21 May was the crushing electoral defeat suffered by SYRIZA, which received 20.07 percent, approximately 1.182 million votes and 71 seats. In 2019, it received 31.53 percent, 1.781 million votes and 86 seats. The root cause for this collapse is the longstanding rightward shift and treacherous policies of SYRIZA’s leadership.
Notably, the party focused the majority of its fire in the election campaign on the corruption and criminality of the ND regime, rather than presenting anything resembling a positive programme for addressing the needs of working people. This strategy proved utterly bankrupt, and ultimately helped to prevent ND from having to answer for its crimes at the polls.
SYRIZA lost a significant share of votes to its right. PASOK-KINAL gained a net 136,000 votes from SYRIZA, Greek Solution 52,000 and ND 48,000. However, while the full results from the exit polls have not yet been published, given that SYRIZA lost a total of 600,000 votes, it seems that the main tendency of its losses was to more left-wing, and smaller anti-establishment parties (Course of Freedom, Coalition for the Overthrow, ANTARSYA, etc.).
Notably, SYRIZA lost 74,840 votes to the KKE, and 58,780 to Yanis Varoufakis’ MeRA25. Furthermore, given that SYRIZA suffered the worst losses of any party overall, it was likely responsible for the bulk of the 50,000 invalid and blank ballots cast compared to 2019.
SYRIZA's losses came largely from the working class. In the aforementioned B2 West Sector of Athens and the B Piraeus, SYRIZA tumbled from 38.6 to 22.71 percent, and from 38.22 to 20.75 percent respectively. These results clearly show the resounding failure of the SYRIZA leadership to convince workers that its programme represented their interests, but also the increased mistrust of workers towards a leadership that has deceived and betrayed them many times over the past years.
SYRIZA also suffered big losses amongst the petit-bourgeois, falling from 22.6 percent to 18.7 percent among freelancers and to 13 percent (below PASOK-KINAL) among farmers and ranchers.
These results reveal the complete bankruptcy of the leadership’s strategy of taking the ‘middle ground’ and targeting the ‘middle class’, in the name of which, for eight years now, the remaining left-wing elements of the party's programme have been diluted, and doors flung open for careerists from the old PASOK of Simitis and DIMAR of Kouvelis. Even officials of the ND of Karamanlis have been welcomed, such as its old government representative, Antonaros.
The ‘turn to the middle ground’ not only alienated working-class left-wing voters, but also failed to retain tens of thousands of petty bourgeois, who found a more authentic expression further to the right in ND, and mainly in PASOK-KINAL.
The only category of voters where SYRIZA showed an increase was young people aged 18-to-24, amongst whom they won 28.8 percent of the vote compared to 25.6 percent in 2019, as part of a general trend of the youth moving to the left. Putting that aside, unless it radically changes course, SYRIZA will face the prospect of an electoral shrinkage along the lines of “memorandum era” PASOK.
The reasons for the electoral growth of PASOK-KINAL
PASOK-KINAL under Nikos Androulakis won 11.46 percent of the vote, receiving almost 675,000 votes and 41 seats; against a percentage of 8.10 percent, almost 457,000 votes and 22 seats in 2019. This electoral rise was met with triumphalism by the leadership of PASOK-KINAL and the ruling class, who together portray the party as a rising force, ready to win back the electoral influence it lost during the previous decade to SYRIZA.
However, the rise of SYRIZA was predicated on the collapse of PASOK’s influence among the working class and the youth. The 21 May results show that PASOK-KINAL still maintains only weak influence on the working class and young people, receiving a significantly lower vote share amongst these layers than its national percentage.
In the B2 West Sector of Athens and the B Piraeus, PASOK-KINAL came in not only behind SYRIZA but also the KKE, with only 8.80 and 7.41 percent respectively. More generally, the ‘core’ of PASOK-KINAL voters are petit-bourgeois layers from the cities and the villages, and its highest percentages are in provincial towns.
It is notable that, across all regions of four out of the five largest cities of the country (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, Piraeus), PASOK-KINAL not only underperformed compared to its national result, but in all but one region also received only a single digit percentage! PASOK-KINAL’s influence among the 18-24 age group stands at 10.5 percent.
The main reason for the growth of PASOK-KINAL, as shown by the exit polls, was taking 162,000 votes from SYRIZA. Interestingly, 37.2 percent of all voters who declare themselves left or centre-left voted for PASOK-KINAL! This reflects the very deep roots that the old, traditional PASOK had in Greek society and in the consciousness of particularly older, more conservative layers of the working class.
That being said, PASOK-KINAL’s election campaign also gouged SYRIZA’s vote by tacking leftwards, at least in rhetoric. Their election campaign was quite aggressive towards the government of ND (putting the wiretapping scandal at the forefront of its campaign), and also included some reforms in its programme, such as the construction of 150,000 houses for new couples, the ‘unfreezing’ of the three-year period for raising workers’ wages, the abolition of the provisions of the last ND law on working hours and dismissals, salary increases for civil servants, reduction of VAT on basic food and personal care items, protection of the National Health Service, covering all vacant jobs in healthcare with permanent recruitment, reinstatement of the EKAS (Subsidy of Social Solidarity for Pensioners) for 350,000 low-pensioners, and the construction of new student residences.
That being said, it is important to note that, from a historical point of view, PASOK-KINAL fell about 70,000 votes short, even of the result achieved by PASOK under Ev. Venizelos in its electoral defeat by SYRIZA in June 2012. This upward trajectory is still weak.
The rise of the KKE shows the revolutionary potential
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) achieved a significant increase in its forces, with 7.23 percent of the vote, winning about 426,000 votes and 26 seats. In 2019, it received 5.3 percent, 299,500 votes and 15 seats. The rise in the party's share was even greater in constituencies with a bigger working-class population. In all constituencies of Athens and Piraeus it is now the third party, surpassing PASOK-KINAL.
This increase in percentage and votes for the KKE is the strongest answer to the extreme pessimists within the left who have been flooding social media since the election results were announced. It is a recovery to the high watermark the party achieved in the May 2012 elections, when the class struggle was also very hot.
This strengthening of the party's electoral influence reveals in general terms the great objective potential that exists today to change the correlation of power between SYRIZA and the KKE among the working class. There is also potential for change in the correlation of forces within the KKE’s ranks between those who support reformism, and those that defend communism.
In any case, this rise is still inadequate, necessitating the earliest possible correction of all the reformist errors in the party's political line. Failure to correct these mistakes will undermine the momentum gained on 21 May: as we previously saw in the KKE’s vote collapse between May and June 2012.
As was seen in the mass movement following the Tempi railway disaster, we are at the beginning of a new period of militant awakening of the working masses.
In this situation, the KKE will have new great opportunities to develop its influence and will be called upon to prove that it has learned the necessary lessons from its failure to develop during the previous period of mass struggles. But for that, it needs a revolutionary Communist programme to galvanise workers and the youth.
The defeat of MERA25
On 21 May, MERA25 faced a serious defeat. From 3.44 percent, about 195,000 votes and nine seats in 2019, the party slumped to 2.62 percent, about 154,000 votes and failed to qualify for parliament.
With this result, MERA25 paid the price for its failure to become a party with real, living links to the working class and youth. The basic ideas with which its leadership, led by Yanis Varoufakis, sought to build MERA25, as we have often emphasised, are organically incapable of creating a viable, mass left-wing party.
The search for political solutions by radicalised sections of the working class and youth after the betrayal of the summer of 2015, caused a certain interest in MERA25. However, they were ultimately not convinced that there can be a break with the capitalist oligarchy without a corresponding break with capitalism. They understood that vague calls for a ‘break’ through technical manoeuvres within the existing system cannot substitute for a revolutionary socialist programme.
The ruling class dealt the party a coup de grace by whipping up hysteria around the economic programme laid out in its ‘Dimitra Plan’. Instead of the leadership of MERA25 'picking up the gauntlet', going on the offensive with a radical campaign that would expose the bankers and put them on the defensive, they (and Varoufakis especially) acted like embarrassed apologists. All of this sealed their fate.
‘Simple PR’, reduction of abstention and the youth of Tempi
The elections were held under an electoral system, legislated for by the SYRIZA-ANEL government, and falsely billed as “simple proportional representation”. The 3 percent threshold for entering parliament meant that 16 percent of the electorate saw no representation in parliament, which corresponds to 48 seats!
The abolition of this undemocratic system and its replacement with genuine proportional representation must be one of the basic democratic demands of the workers' movement and the left.
Abstention in the elections decreased from 42.22 percent to 39.06 percent. This means that about 290,000 more voters participated in the May 21 elections compared to 2019. Based on the pre-election polls, and the general atmosphere in society in the aftermath of the Tempi movement, one can assume that this was largely due to the high participation of young people.
The willingness of this generation to enter the political scene en masse is a dangerous development for the ruling class. Based on the data published for voters aged 17 to 24, it seems that by far the biggest section supported left-wing parties (SYRIZA, KKE, Mera25 and smaller outfits).
The vote share of the KKE amongst young people rose from 4.3 percent to 6.4 percent. While positive, this modest growth also underlies the need for an even more convincing intervention among the youth.
The battle of 25 June is crucial
The victory of New Democracy on 21 May has aroused great euphoria among the capitalists. This is reflected in ND’s public announcement of their arrogant goals for the new national elections on 25 June. These include not only a win by a wide margin, but also the thwarting of any chance for the KKE to catch up with PASOK-KINAL, the restoration of the old two-party political system, and forcing out SYRIZA as the second party.
Workers understand that, with the next round of elections taking place in just one month and without a left leadership presenting a programme that can substantially improve their lives, a ND majority government is extremely difficult to prevent. They understand that such a government will intensify attacks on conditions of the working class, as well as pushing for reactionary constitutional changes. These constitutional changes would be necessary to push through major attacks, long-coveted by ND, such as the establishment of private universities and further privatisation of health care.
According to the current rules for the revision of the constitution, in the event that in the next parliament there is a majority of 180 MPs (out of a total of 300 MPs) for the first party, articles proposed by the government for revision will only need a simple majority of 151 MPs.
Moreover, under the electoral system that will apply in the 25 June contest, a party coming first with a 40.4 percent share (i.e. 0.4 percent less than what ND received on 21 May), will win a majority. For every point increase in the percentage of votes going to parties outside parliament, the bar for majority for the first party is lowered.
Another broad victory for ND within just one month would expose the working class to vicious attacks by a buoyant ND government. That is why we cannot approach this electoral battle with a routinist attitude. This must be fought by all forces of the working class, unified with fighting spirit and class solidarity. From this point of view, nothing is more damaging than the poison of pessimism and scepticism spread by the bankrupt reformist leaders – who are responsible for the present situation – to blame the Greek workers for their own weakness and cowardice.
We say: a united struggle is necessary to prevent a majority right-wing ND government from consolidating the right-wing’s grip on power. If the seeds of a unified struggle are planted now, even the worst impact of a possible ND victory on 25 June will be undermined.
However, what lies in the way of a unified struggle is the cowardice of the SYRIZA leadership, who are drawing all the wrong lessons out of the May election results; as well as the sectarian attitude by the KKE leadership, who now think they will grow automatically as SYRIZA’s failure is being exposed.
It is true, the balance of forces within the left is shifting in favour of the KKE, as a bigger layer of workers and youth are looking for a militant way out of the impasse. SYRIZA’s leadership must be challenged. The KKE leadership must take the initiative in the struggle against the right wing by proposing a united front of the left for the 25 June election and beyond.
We say: no to pessimism! There is no noticeable shift of society towards the right! The New Democracy won by rallying and marginally increasing its existing forces. The total support for right-wing parties in society is essentially the same as in 2019, and only one out of four eligible citizens voted for ND.
We must ask: how can unity be achieved when the leadership of the organisations of the left are so profoundly divided? Only in the course of struggle, by mobilising the youth and the working class against the threat of a majority right-wing ND government, as the mass mobilisations triggered by the rail disaster in Tempi has shown.
A United Workers’ Front of struggle against the right, made up of SYRIZA, the KKE, MERA25 and other smaller left-wing parties, must be organised on the basis of a campaign to denounce the reactionary attacks being prepared by the capitalists and a possible ND majority government. Not a single vote from the working class, poor and youth to the Right!
Furthermore, the rotten role of the media, controlled by the oligarchy, must be consistently highlighted and condemned.
And above all, there must be a firm commitment to form a broad left government, to repeal the reactionary legislation and anti-labour laws introduced by ND. This, as a first step towards a broad discussion within the workers’ and youth movement on a clear anti-capitalist programme.
The KKE must take the initiative of the struggle against the right wing, promoting a broad Workers’ United Front. Only the struggle for socialism can guarantee a better future for the Greek working class. Let us have this discussion in the open, not behind closed doors.
The only political solution is the struggle for the election of a workers' government that will implement a socialist programme!
[This article is an abridged version of the original statement published in Greek]