Greece: Vote marked by high abstention

Protest against fuel, electricity and water price hikes. Athens, September 23. Photo: KKE/Picasa

An unprecedented high abstention rate of 39% marked elections for municipal and regional authorities for 13 region governors and 325 mayors in Greece. The second round of the elections took place on November 14.

The regions are newly created local authorities. Their formation is closely connected to the austerity program imposed on Greece by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU). The new bodies conform to the “Kallikratis” plan, a hasty reform of the administrative structure of the country.

The plan was introduced by the governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) cabinet to cut spending. It cuts down Greece’s former regions from 57 to 13 and reduces municipalities from 1034 to 325.

It has also removed one level of local governance — that of prefectures. The Kallikratis plan is set to completely change local government and is part of a drive to extreme privatisation and a worsening of ordinary people’s working and living conditions.

In this context, the local vote was seen as crucial in showing support for the austerity measures imposed by the PASOK government. The elections were especially politicised by Prime Minister George Papandreou’s statement that he would dissolve government and call snap general elections if PASOK failed to win most municipal positions.

There has been a great deal of media propaganda trying to sell the Kallikratis plan to the Greek people. However, most people were not taken in.

The right-wing candidates won most of the votes (with the ones aligned with PASOK slightly ahead), but abstention was the clearest winner. As well as the high abstention rate, there was also a high percentage of invalid and blank votes (9%).

This is a sign of people’s opposition to the “memorandum” (the agreement signed by the government with the IMF and EU representatives). The reason this did not translate into more active opposition is the widespread feelings of disappointment, indifference and powerlessness.

On the one hand, Greek people have started to see clearly that no matter which of the two major parties they vote for, they get duped. This feeling has been fed by recent harsh austerity measures, the effects of which have started to be felt very acutely, and by politicians’ clear disregard for the common good and glaringly obvious lies.

On the other hand, the left hasn’t been able to attract more support, having failed to gain peoples’ trust. Not only is the left divided, but there has recently been ugly bickering and a split in the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). This helped turn people away.

Furthermore, despite some left-wing groups forming alliances, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), focused on seeking to increase its vote. It has refused to collaborate with the rest of the left. It has used slander and lies against other left groups to attract support.

The left also hasn’t been able to achieve any major victories that would have helped build up the movement against the austerity measures. This is despite scoring some successes — usually small and short-lived. This was the case of the attack on pensions, which was stalled due to a strong movement opposing it, before it was eventually implemented.

Despite all that, the results for the left were not all that bad, although the high abstention makes it harder to assess the significance of the results. The valid votes for left-wing candidates come to about 20%.

PASOK has won eight of the total 13 municipalities with about 34% of the votes. New Democracy (the other major neoliberal party that takes turns with PASOK in government) won about 32%.

Compared to the last elections, PASOK lost about 1 million votes and New Democracy about half a million — a rather unpleasant outcome for both parties. It’s also quite worrying for them not knowing the political meaning of the high abstention rate and what the huge feelings of discontent might lead to.

With these elections, the legitimacy of the government has come into question in a big way. As well as the highly undemocratic electoral system, the representatives were elected by an extremely small number of voters, which hardly makes for a “representative” result.

A chilling warning from the elections was the rise of the extreme right in Athens. In the Athens region, the openly neo-Nazi party Chrisi Avgi (“Golden Dawn”) won about 5% and one elected representative. It won 23% in one suburb, where the Nazis found fertile ground and organised anti-migrant actions with the active support of local police.

This is the result of the vacuum created by the weakness of the left and the fierce mass media racist propaganda, which has been going on for years. This is pushed on the principle of “divide and rule”.

The far-right party was also given cover by the police on many occasions, including helping Chrisi Avgi members hide in police ranks before attacking unionists and migrants. The party has been allowed to carry on with its illegal hate campaign with impunity.

The Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS, an acronym meaning “people” in Greek), which is a far-right openly racist party with parliamentary representatives, got 4.86% of the vote. However, while this is not to be disregarded, it is a drop from the 5.63% it won in the last poll.

This drop in support took place in spite of the widespread sense of despair and the obscenely disproportionate media exposure LAOS’ leaders received.

It seems this time, LAOS did not play the populist card right. It voted for the Mnemonium and has actively sought an alliance with PASOK and a share in the government.

Due to its impatient thirst for power, it got exposed as a party that does not really stand by the peoples’ side and does not differ all that much from the major parties.

During the election campaign, and half way through the two rounds of voting, the government assured people there would not be any more public sector salary cuts or sackings, or another VAT (consumption tax) increase.

It has been lying through its teeth — as it has done many times in the past, when it has implemented the very measures it had promised not to.

The measures it promised not to implement in these elections are sure to be imposed too — as part of a new wave of austerity measures ordered by Greece’s EU and IMF creditors in the midst of the election.

In his post-election speech, Papandreou said he was given a mandate by Greek people to press ahead with the austerity program.

The situation in Greece shows there is a huge political vacuum waiting to be filled. If the left doesn’t rise to the occasion, things might get out of hand to the detriment of people’s interests and welfare — especially with the extreme right looming in the background.