The victory of SYRIZA — Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left — in the January 25 elections caused enormous outpouring of joy on the streets of Athens and confirmed general expectations. The “poll of polls” done on the day before the election had SYRIZA winning 37.5% and 146 seats.
The final result was 36.49% and 149 seats. SYRIZA will now form government in alliance with the socially conservative, but anti-Brussels, Independent Greeks.
Exit polls taken after voting closed had SYRIZA at between 36.5% and 38.5% (146- 158 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament). In the end, the radical coalition fell two seats short of an absolute majority.
That majority would most likely have been achieved if the outgoing, right-wing New Democracy (ND) government had not stopped about 100,000 18-year-olds from voting. Electoral rolls are updated every February in Greece and the ND government voted down a proposal to have them updated for this poll.
Before being assigned the extra 50 seats that goes to the party that wins the most votes under Greek election law, SYRIZA won 99 seats, 28 more than in the June 2012 election. With the 50 seats awarded for topping the poll, and distributed regionally, SYRIZA's gain was 78 seats. Where did they come from?
Greece is divided into 56 electorates, of which 48 are multi-member seats and eight single-member seats, according to population size. These 56 electorates return 288 MPs, with the remaining 12 elected on a national basis.
Those seats are shared proportionately among the parties that have passed the 3% threshold for representation (with six seats guaranteed), using the vote of the parties falling short of the threshold.
In this election the combined vote won by groups who did not pass the 3% threshold, and so won’t enter parliament, was 8.62%. This include the 2.44% won by the Movement of Democratic Socialists (MDS), the vehicle set up by former prime minister George Papandreou in a vain attempt to remain a national political figure.
(Papandreou had headed a government of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), traditionally a social democratic party and one of Greece’s two main parties with conservative ND, but which has dramatically crashed in the polls due to its support for austerity.)
The national swing to SYRIZA was 9.45%, yet reached its highest points in the regions. The swing ranged as high as 28.7% in Rhodope (in Western Thrace, bordering on Bulgaria).
There, the PASOK vote fell from 20.5% to 3.3% and the vote for the Democratic Left (DIMAR; a right-wing split from SYRIZA) from 17.7% to 0.3%, as the region’s Muslim people (Greece’s one recognised minority) swung to the radical coalition. Rhodope was where SYRIZA obtained its highest vote — 48.45%.
Other regions where the swing to SYRIZA exceeded 13% were Evrytania and Trikalon in central Greece (16.4% and 13.3%), the regions of Lasithi (16.4%) and Heraklion (14.2%) on the island of Crete, and Arta in the Epirus region on the Ionian coast, where the swing was 15%.
SYRIZA came first in 42 of the 56 electorates, compared with 16 in the June 2012 poll.
The result in Rhodope expressed the general trend in the election in an extreme way: the vote for the right (ND) and the far right (Golden Dawn) fell only marginally, but “left” forces PASOK and DIMAR paid heavily for their participation in the ND-led government implementing the policies imposed on Greece by the “Troika” of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The PASOK vote fell from 12.3% to 4.7% (33 seats to 13), while DIMAR was annihilated, collapsing from 6.25% to 0.5% and losing all of its 17 seats. This was less than the far left ANTARSYA (Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow, which won 0.64%).
Some of the vote deserting PASOK and DIMAR went to Papandreou’s MDS (2.4%), while The River, a trendy, millionaire-funded “hipster” party led by a TV presenter, won 6.04%.
The swing against PASOK, which spared no electorate, reached 17.3% in Lasithi. Greece’s traditional social democratic party, which had still managed to come second in four electorates in June 2012, could only manage a best result of third at this poll (in 11 electorates).
As for the MDS, the highest score it could manage was in Papandreou’s home region of Achaea, at 5.9%, with scores of only 1% and 2% in the main metropolitan areas.
New Democracy, which ran a terrorist fear-mongering campaign against SYRIZA, won’t be unhappy with its result. The worst swing it suffered was 6.6% (in Rhodope), while in 11 electorates it managed a swing in its favour.
This reached a high of 4.7% on the island of Chios, close to the Turkish coast. There, its rhetoric about SYRIZA leaving Greece “defenceless” probably had the greatest impact. Its next greatest success was in Thesprotia, an electorate bordering on Albania on the Ionian coast (3.4%gain).
In the main urban centres, the ND vote hardly suffered, with no change to speak of in the two Piraeus electorates, a very slight fall in the two Athens electorates and a 2.65% and 2.9% fall in Thessalonica’s two electorates.
The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn also suffered only a slight decline. Its vote fell in 43 of the 56 electorates, but the greatest swing against it was only 2.7% (in Corinthia). Its best result was 10.5% (in rural Laconia, where immigrant workers working on the farms are painted as a “threat to Greek jobs”).
This result indicates that Golden Dawn, despite the “legal decapitation” of its parliamentary caucus, has consolidated its social base for the time being.
While the SYRIZA victory has dominated the headlines, the election also produced a broader shift to the left. In June 2012, the sum of the SYRIZA, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and ANTARYSA vote was 31.7%. On January 25, it was 42.5%.
The KKE has increased its vote by 1% and three seats, with those gains concentrated in the greater Athens region. The KKE lost votes in only four electorates (most notably on its stronghold Samos, close to the Turkish coast), but gained seats on Lesbos and Crete.
SYRIZA’s gains in seats were broadly spread across urban and rural Greece, as well as the islands. It won its 78 extra seats in 40 electorates.
Of these, 19 in the greater Athens area (including Attica), Piraeus and Thessalonica, 14 on the islands on all sides of the mainland (including Crete), 22 in the northern regions along the Albanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and Turkish borders, 13 in central Greece (including the island of Euboea) and 10 on the southern mainland.
The even spread of SYRIZA’s gains, some in regions without a left majority in decades, showed the overwhelming nature of its victory.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He is part of Green Left’s team in Athens reporting on the elections. Read Green Left's full coverage of the elections here.]