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Greece's snap elections -- everything you need to know

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Greece's snap elections -- everything you need to know


Q.: What are the dates and times of election day?

A.: These elections are held on Sunday, September 20th. Polls are expected to open at 0700 local time (i.e. 0600 CET) and close at 1900 local time (1800 CET).

Q.: Why do they matter?

A.: Some background on what has been going on in Greece helps to show why the Greek elections matter, starting with the last elections, in January this year.

Conservatives lose ground

After failing to elect a head of state in December, the coalition government of Antonis Samaras had to call snap elections in January. The new parliament would have to elect a new national president and the new government would have to close what would be the last review of Greece’s second bailout program, which was about to run out on December 31st, 2014.

In the January 25th elections, SYRIZA soared to first place, the first left party ever to lead a government in Greece.

Winners not strong enough

Seeing that the current parliament would not produce the consent needed to elect a head of state (180 votes required out of 300), however, Samaras’s team agreed to accept a two-month extension of the bailout program. The SYRIZA government, therefore, had until March 2nd, 2015, to negotiate and close the review.

But newly-elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis chose to follow a totally different negotiating approach than that of their predecessors, intending not to implement the austerity measures that were the prerequisites for Greece to secure the bailout program and receive money.

GREXIT speculation heats up — referendum!

A vague deal was reached in principle on February 20th, but then negotiations started stalling. In the mean time, national liquidity was running thin and GREXIT scenarios (a Greek exit from the eurozone) had started developing, again.

Greece missed payments to the IMF in June and, as negotiations were taking a dramatic turn, Tsipras called a referendum (to be held on July 5th). He urged the Greek people to vote against the conditions of the deal being presented to the government by the eurozone and the IMF. This enraged Tsipras’s European counterparts, and they suspended any negotiating procedures until after the referendum had been held.

Bank withdrawals limited to 60 euros per day

As if that was not enough, people had already been massively withdrawing money from the banks, in fear of a Cyprus-like bail-in and a deposit ‘haircut’ (whereby a part of cash assets left in banks was used to appease holders of Cyprus debt). The government in Athens imposed capital controls, allowing people to withdraw a maximum of 60 euros per day.

New bailout conditions overwhelmingly rejected

The referendum on the conditions of the bailout was interpreted by many, both inside Greece and abroad, as a ‘yes or no’ to the euro. Although the Greek mass media clearly supported the ‘yes’ camp (‘NAI’), almost 62% of the Greek electorate voted ‘no’ (‘OXI’).

New Democracy President Antonis Samaras considered the result a defeat, resigned and handed the party leadership to Vangelis Meimarakis.

Varoufakis the fallen ‘hero’

Meanwhile, Varoufakis considered the result as a mandate to reject the proposed deal. Tsipras, however, was not of the same opinion, and Varoufakis resigned the next day. Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece’s top negotiator, replaced him as finance minister.

Tsakalotos’s appointment was welcomed by the Europeans, who had increasingly openly disliked working with Varoufakis. Negotiations resumed and built up speed.

Emergency capitulation

The last act of the drama culminated on July 12th. After 17 straight hours of negotiating, the leaders of the eurozone countries agreed on a new three-year bailout program involving the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Funds were to be made available up to 86 billion euros, paid on condition that austerity measures and structural reforms were implemented.

These were the same measures that SYRIZA and ANEL (the Independent Greeks right-wing populist party in coalition with SYRIZA) had rejected before the referendum.

SYRIZA mutiny Signing the deal caused turmoil within SYRIZA. Relying on the conservative opposition’s support, the deal was approved in parliament, although dozens of members quit SYRIZA.

Tsipras claimed that the alternative to this deal was for Greece to default on its debt and leave the common currency, bearing in mind all the consequences a GREXIT would bring.

Tsipras resigned on August 20th, seeking a clear mandate to implement what he had signed up to not even one month earlier.

Q.: How does Greece’s electoral system work?

A.: Voting is mandatory in Greece for every citizen aged 18 to 70; however, there is no history of any penalties being imposed on non-voters.

The Greek parliament has 300 seats. Of these, 250 are allotted on the basis of proportional representation. A threshold of 3% of the national vote is required for a party to enter parliament. Blank votes, invalid votes and votes cast for parties that fall short of the 3% threshold are disregarded in the allocation of seats.

The party that wins a majority of the votes is awarded 50 ‘bonus’ seats. The election law states that coalitions in that regard are not counted as an overall party; each party in the coalition alliance has its votes counted separately. Note that SYRIZA, despite using the term ‘coalition’ in its name, is one integrated party.

A parliamentary majority is achieved when a party or coalition of parties hold at least 151 (that is 50% plus one) of the total 300 seats.

Q.: What and who are the main parties and candidates?

A.: Here is a list of them, along with some other key actors.

Coalition of the Radical Left SYRIZA [ΣΥΡΙΖΑ]
Pres.: incumbent PM Alexis Tsipras — left-wing and radical left

New Democracy, ND [Νέα Δημοκρατία, ΝΔ]
Pres.: Vangelis Meimarakis — liberal conservative

Popular Unity, PU (Laiki Enotita, LAE) [Λαϊκή Ενότητα, ΛΑΕ]
Pres.: Panagiotis Lafazanis — populist left

Golden Dawn, [Χρυσή Αυγή, ΧΑ]
Sec. Gen.: Nikos Mihaloliakos — extreme right

The River (To Potami) [Το Ποτάμι]
Pres.: Stavros Theodorakis — liberal centrist

Communist Party of Greece (KKE) [KKE]
Sec. Gen.: Dimitris Koutsoumpas — communist

Panhellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK [ΠΑΣΟΚ]
Pres.: Fofi Gennimata — social democrats

Democratic Left, DIMAR [Δημοκρατική Αριστερά, ΔΗΜΑΡ]
Pres.: Thanassis Theoharopoulos — centre left

Note: PASOK and DIMAR have joined together in an alliance under the name ‘Democratic Coalition’, led by PASOK President Gennimata.

Independent Greeks, ANEL [ΑΝΕΛ]
Pres.: Panos Kammenos — populist right

Centrist Union, CU [Ένωση Κεντρώων, ΕΚ]
Pres.: Vassilis Leventis — centre left

Other key actors:

Parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou
President of the Hellenic Republic (Head of State) Prokopis Pavlopoulos

Q.: What are the campaign issues and parties’/candidates’ positions?

A.: In a crisis-torn country that is just entering a third bailout memorandum period, the political positions may generally be described as fairly straightforward. The economy is the main field of play.

What would they say?

Here is a paraphrased version of what key political figures might say, if they were asked to express their main positions in a nutshell.


: “We have no choice but to implement the July 12th agreement (i.e. the Third Memorandum) and all its measures. There is no alternative. We must find ways to ease austerity and its negative consequences. After two positive reviews, hopefully by the end of this year we will start negotiating for debt relief. We seek a clear majority. We will not cooperate with parties from Greece’s sinful past (ND and PASOK).”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]


: “We are pro-reform, and in that sense pro-memorandum. Tsipras has lost credibility, because he did the exact opposite of what he promised in January. He wasted seven months by pretending to negotiate, sending everything the previous government had achieved down the drain. As we do not see any single party winning an outright majority, we are willing to cooperate with others in order to implement reforms swiftly, to get the country back on its feet.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]


: “We are against any memoranda, which we see as a means to impose a kind of financial occupation in Greece. We favour a unilateral renunciation of the debt and nationalising the banks, even if that means exiting the eurozone. We stand for what SYRIZA stood for before the January elections, which Tsipras has long since betrayed.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]

Mihaloliakos/Golden Dawn

: “All politicians are dirty and criminals and should be incarcerated. We are the true political power and speak the mind of Greek voters. We who are the descendants of ancient Greece cannot accept any foreign migrants. We oppose any agreement with Greece’s lenders because we consider them loan sharks.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]


: “We are pro-reform and against any kind of corruption. Corruption has brought ruin on Greece. A liberal economy should be at the core of Greece’s financial policies, but with an eye to those worst affected by the crisis. We have no restrictive political direction, be it left or right, so we can support any government that commits to clearing the mess this country is in.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]


: “We urge the people to unite, revolt and take all means of production into their control. We do not agree with LAE that returning to the national currency is enough. The whole of Greek society needs drastic reform towards pure socialism, where the workers are free of bosses and production will be both owned and run by the workers themselves. We support no government and will participate in no cabinet, as they are all pro-EU and pro-capitalism.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]

Gennimata/Democratic Coalition

: “The era of one-party governments in Greece is over. We seek to be the moderator power in Greek politics. We want to be the voice of truth and reason, the third pole after SYRIZA and ND, to participate in a government and help Greece move beyond the memorandum. We have made mistakes in the past, but we are charting a clear line and want to let bygones be bygones. The reforms should be implemented in the least painful way for the people of Greece, who have been making huge sacrifices for five years.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]


: “We were doing great as governing partners with SYRIZA and we will continue on this path. We want to eject corrupt politicians from Greek politics and throw them in prison. We are the voice of the right in a government of the left and we agree with SYRIZA that there should be an end to the memoranda and the sacrifices in Greece. Furthermore, Germans are evil.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]

Leventis/Centrist Union

: “Greek politicians have all betrayed their voters. We must remain in the eurozone, but implement reforms that will make us a proper state. If I get to be in charge, I can get Greece out of the memoranda measures within two months, because I know people in Europe. For too long we have been living beyond our means and we are now paying for it with this crisis.”

[note that these are not actual citations but are close approximations, based on statements on public record]

Q.: What does the outgoing parliament look like?

A.: The parties’ seats in parliament before the SYRIZA ‘rebellion’:

New Democracy 76
Golden Dawn 17
Potami 17
KKE 15

A coalition was necessary

As SYRIZA did not secure an outright majority of 151 MPs in the January 25th elections, the party had to form a coalition government. The populist right Independent Greeks (ANEL) were its partners in this, its core program strictly anti-austerity.

An implosion of confidence

Yet things worked out far differently than expected. After a dramatic negotiating procedure that lasted about six months, the Greek government managed to strike a deal on a third bailout program with its lenders. Seeing this as the exact opposite of what had been promised before the polls, 25 SYRIZA MPs, including senior officials, defected. They have formed a new party called ‘Popular Unity’ (LAE). This party withheld support from the government as concerned the harsh new memorandum measures, thus stripping the coalition government of parliamentary confidence.

After this loss of SYRIZA MPs, on the eve of the September 20th elections, the parties’ power, in terms of seats in parliament, was as follows:

New Democracy 76
Popular Unity (LAE) 25
Golden Dawn 17
Potami 17
KKE 15

Q.: What is the most realistic outcome based on the latest opinion polls?

A.: The latest polls show a tight race for the top position, although the opinion-taking companies have failed to delivered reliable results for a long time, and so have lost much of their credibility. That said, SYRIZA appears to have a slight lead over ND.

It seems probable that no party will win an outright majority, so the most likely result will be a coalition government. As for the partners in that coalition, this remains to be seen; that is guesswork at the moment.

But it is worth noting that Vangelis Meimarakis’s leadership of the conservative New Democracy (ND) has generally moved the party more to the centre, and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras appears to have added more pragmatism to his idealism after getting hammered in Brussels and eventually signing the hard deal.

A coalition of SYRIZA and ND is not completely out of the question, no matter what Tsipras has said, even though many people would have dismissed such a scenario as the stuff of science fiction one year and a half ago.

The content of this Greek election background was compiled by our Athens bureau.

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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