For the last two years, Greek citizens have turned out to oppose austerity measures in front of the Hellenic Parliament. The May 2012 parliamentary elections allowed the people an alternative route to voice their views, which resulted in a loss of seats for the two main parties — Pasok (socialist) and New Democracy (conservative) — and growth of representation for fringe parties.
While Greece’s parliament members voted on austerity measures (except tax hikes), they did not debate the terms of the measures because they feared rejection of the entire support package. Thus, austerity measures have reduced Greece’s economic activity to a degree not seen since the civil war days of the 1940s and the country’s economic sovereignty has practically vanished. Greek unemployment is about 20 percent and youth unemployment is even higher at almost 50 percent. Citizens’ wages have been decreased by more than one-third over the past year while costs remain the same. And soup kitchens have even opened throughout the nation to feed those who no longer are able to afford food. As one reporter put it, Greeks “don’t have money to cover their basic needs, such as to buy food or pay for their utilities or their phones, and every day more and more people get in that situation. So if you don’t have money to buy food, you’re not worried about the European future of the country — you are worried about your survival.”
Greek citizens do not believe they are responsible for the bailout agreements. They know the country’s financial system has been destroyed by political corruption and they believe the two major political parties, Pasok and New Democracy, are to blame for the country’s current economic disaster. At a conference in Washington Greek Ambassador to the U.S. Vassilis Kaskarellis publicly acknowledged this by describing the problem as economic and political because politicians mismanaged the Greek economy. Greek voters are confused and angry, passionately expressing their frustration first in demonstrations and now at the polls.
In response to the lack of funds for survival, the May 2012 parliamentary election resulted — surveying seats from political left to political right — in: KKE (communist) 26, Syriza 52, Democratic Left 19, Pasok 41, New Democracy 108, Independent Greeks 33, and Golden Dawn 21. Since New Democracy obtained the most seats it gained a bonus of 50 extra. Such a fragmented parliament prevented a coalition government from forming especially since Syriza declined to participate in a meeting to converse about a partnership with the two traditional popular parties, New Democracy and Pasok. Therefore, a second round of elections will take place on June 17 — which means the country’s and maybe the global financial system’s fate is in the hands of Greek voters.
Surging support for the leftist political party Syriza continues to increase, with current polling reflecting over 20 percent backing among voters. The majority of Greek people do not want to leave the eurozone and the European Union; they just want to be able to survive and have run out of patience with the false promises and corruption of politicians. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has provided hope for the people by telling them what many want to hear: it is possible for Greece to get rid of austerity measures, stay in the eurozone and still receive funding from the EU. Tsipras claims it is feasible to do away with austerity because the repeated warnings from Europe and the IMF are a way of threatening Greece into doing what they want it to do. He explained, “The dilemma at these elections is catastrophic austerity or the prospect of hope by cancelling the memorandum. The memorandum cannot be negotiated because hell cannot be negotiated.” Syriza is competing with New Democracy for first place in the election, with recent polling suggesting the two have similar levels of support in the electorate.
The second round of elections on June 17 will probably answer the most important questions being pondered in foreign capitals. Will Syriza gain more support in June or will a second fragmented parliament result, leaving parliament with very little time to make serious financial decisions to close the country’s budget gap? If Syriza secures more support as expected, will it truly do away with austerity measures or will it find a way for the Greek people to cope? Will Greece remain in the eurozone and in the European Union or will it flee and return to its own currency with the instability that may entail for the global financial system? History has come full circle: the politically divided little country that forged the foundations of western civilization 2,000 years ago is now determining its financial future.