The Politics of Austerity – – In the wake of a deteriorating public balance sheet, successive Greek governments accepted the politics of austerity demanded by an international troika (EU, European Central Bank, and IMF) as a way of gaining access to loans. The conditions for these loans are codified through a series of evolving Memoranda imposing increasingly strict and detailed directives for the social and economic policies of Greek governments. The Troika imposed memoranda provide the basic fault line that defines Greek politics.
Background – Since the fall of the junta in 1974 Greece has been ruled by two political parties – Pasok (the social democrats) and New Democracy (conservatives). They have shared alternating periods of government as well as being in coalition during the latest crisis. Both parties stand guilty of having perpetuated a corrupt form of politics that has relied on building a state that is largely defined by (i) a crude patronage culture of providing jobs and other benefits to cement electoral support, and (ii) servicing the needs of established families and emerging oligarchs. However odious this schema may have been to the average public, it was tolerated under general conditions of economic growth.
Enter the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) crisis – the established political game unravelled as it was revealed that successive Pasok and ND governments had lied about the true nature of Greece’s public accounts. As the real Greek government deficit was revised ever upwards, the markets were ready to frame the situation as a crisis in international confidence in Greece’s ability to repay its sovereign debt. A bailout package was designed, requiring Greece to enter a death spiral of harsh austerity measures to be monitored and evaluated by the troika.
Greeks reject TINA (There is No Alternative) – The Greek political landscape changed dramatically in 2012 with the electoral success of Greek Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) that campaigned explicitly on rejecting the policies of economic austerity. SYRIZA garnered 27% of the vote and went within a whisker of being the first party. This confirmed that politics would not return to ‘business as usual’. Its successful political campaign has blown apart the comfortable two-party arrangement. SYRIZA now stands as the main political opposition party. It has a very real prospect of forming a government on the explicit platform of rejecting austerity policies dictated by unelected elites.
Looming threat from far-right groups – Similar to other countries in Europe (also dealing with the pain associated with the politics of austerity) there is a dangerous right-wing movement emerging in Greece. This challenge has been spearheaded by the party Golden Dawn that has recently had its leadership arrested on charges related to running a criminal organisation. Notwithstanding the arrests of Golden Dawn leaders, the party enjoys strong support as it harvests popular anger and tries to direct it against immigrants, asylum seekers, gays and other marginalised groups.
Fluid political situation with elections likely by April 2015 – the intensity of the economic crisis and unrelenting austerity policies fuel political tensions, with elections likely by April 2015 due to constitutional requirement for the selection of the President.