Daily Israel Report

Antonis Samaras Will Have No Honeymoon After Narrow Victory

The victory of New Democracy provides temporary relief for the Eurozone but the onerous problems remain.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 6/18/2012, 7:17 AM

Antonis Samaras
Antonis Samaras
Reuters

The European Union dodged a bullet in the Greek elections, with the narrow victory of the conservative New Democracy over Syriza, Greece's radical left party, that wanted to do away with the bailout and the austerity that came with it.

In the end, it was the fear of the unknown that won the day. It wasn't just leaving the Euro, but the fear that it could also mean the implosion of the entire European Union - meaning that unemployed Greeks could not up stakes and move to more prosperous countries within the union.

European citizenship may have meant more than the currency, although that too was a factor. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, made it seem that one could have one's cake and eat it too: Renounce the obligations and still remain in the Eurozone. The voters did not buy it.

This does not mean that the prime minister designate, Antonis Samaras, is going to have an easy time of it. He can form a government with PASOK, the Greek Socialist power house of old, that has been gutted by the economic collapse and the bailout. That party is going to feel itchy about being in the cabinet - it is somewhat the equivalent of Netanyahu taking the Labor Party into his coalition after the 2009 elections.

PASOK and New Democracy have been rivals for generations, with a history that goes back to the Greek Civil war following the Second World War. PASOK will not like to be in a position where it is accused of having betrayed the left by cutting the state payroll and imposing more misery, as it will mean that Syriza will permanently replace it as the party of the left.

To continue with the Israeli parallel, just as Netanyahu had to pamper Labor and the rump Independence Party of Ehud Barak with much higher cabinet representation than its vote warranted, Samaras will have to do the same for PASOK.

The narrow majority for New Democracy and PASOK was a result of the Greek electoral law that awards 50 seats to the largest party - in this case, New Democracy. In countries that are reasonably cohesive, that law could be helpful, but Greece does not fit into this category.

When the original bailout was agreed, New Democracy and PASOK had 80% of the vote between them. Now they have 43%, hardly a popular mandate. The electoral showing will be further tainted by charges of massive foreign intervention in the vote, engendering the feeling that not only has Greece lost its economic independence, it is gradually losing its political independence as well.

Samaras will have his work cut out for him. He can only hope that the European Union will sweeten the terms of the bailout and there have been some signals from Germany that this may be in the works. However, this desire to help Samaras must reckon with the realization that other countries in a similar situation will want the same deal.