Syriza’s Victory Reshapes Greek Politics

by Jackie_South on February 2, 2015

Greece_iconLast Sunday saw Syriza‘s historic election victory in Greece. Has this changed the face of Greek politics for good?

The change in government of Greece this week not only showed a nation exhausted by austerity, but a fundamental shift in the politics of the country.

Since democracy’s 1974 restoration in the country that invented it, political power had been held by either the right-wing New Democracy (ND) party or PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement). Despite the multitude of parties in Greece, these two parties always polled at least 75% of the vote between them until 2012.


2012 saw electoral chaos: two elections six weeks apart, and in the first of these (May 2012) the top three parties (ND, PASOK and Syriza) totaled less than 50% of the vote. Things became more stable in June’s election re-run, with both ND and Syriza picking up votes whilst PASOK floundered, but those two still only totalled 57% of the votes.

The two parties won every region between them, as shown in the map below, with Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) doing well in PASOK’s former strongholds such as Crete. Even though ND was less than 3% ahead of Syriza, it was ahead in every region except Crete, the Ionian islands and Attica (including Athens and Piraeus).


(NB – the map shows Greece’s thirteen regions. The two largest, Attica and Central Macedonia, have been subdivided to show their urban areas (Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki) separately. The autonomous, monastical, Mount Athos does not vote)  

A record seven parties passed the 3% threshold to have members in the Greek Parliament in both those 2012 elections: ND, Syriza and PASOK were joined by representatives of two new rightwing parties – the populist Independent Greeks party (ANEL) and the fascist Golden Dawn. On the left, the Communist Party (KKE) and the centre-left Democratic Left party (DIMAR), another new party formed by former members of Syriza and PASOK.

Although the gap between ND and Syriza was slight and Greece has a form of proportional representation,the Greek system gave ND 129 seats to the latter’s 71. That is because Greece has a twist on the system to ensure more stability: a party needs to poll over 3% nationally; the constituencies can sometimes be single-member (so effectively becoming first-past-the-post); and of the 300 seats, 50 are a bonus for the largest party.


Greece_votes_pieSyriza’s victory this time around was more impressive than New Democracy’s in 2012. Whilst ND’s vote slipped a couple of points (from 29.7% to 27.8%), Syriza’s shot up by over nine: from 26.9% to 36.3%. ANEL lost votes, and DIMAR lost so many that they crashed out of Parliament.

But PASOK’s decline was more marked: from over 12% to under 5%. They now only have one MP left in there Cretan former heartland.

Despite all the coverage of Golden Dawn now being Greece’s third largest party, their vote fell slightly too: from 6.9% to 6.3% and they have one fewer MPs. The fact they are the third party is a reflection of the demise of the others rather than any success.

The only continuing party in Parliament to make gains was the Communist Party, up a point to 5.5% of the vote and with three more seats.

New party To Potami (The River), a slightly left-of-centre party did well, probably taking votes from DIMAR: they took 6.1% of the vote to DIMAR’s 6.2% in 2012. Their vote was almost as large as Golden Dawn’s, and they now have as many seats as the fascists.


The improvement in Syriza’s vote transform the map, as shown below. Only the Peloponnese and Central Macedonia (excluding Thessaloniki) cast more votes for New Democracy. If we had combined Thessaloniki with Central Macedonia, Syriza would have been 1.9% ahead there too.



Overall, the swing from New Democracy to Syriza was 5.7%. Swings were highest in former ND regions: East Macedonia and Thrace (8.4%), Epirus (8.0%), West Greece (7.7%) and Thessaly (7.3%). Within these, the largest swing was a spectacular 17.7% in Rhodope in Thrace – Rhodope is the most Muslim part of Greece – they make up half its population there.

They also did well in Crete (a 7% swing) where they took 45% of the vote, almost 25% ahead of New Democracy, as PASOK’s vote collapsed further: their fall of over 13% of the vote there transferred almost entirely over to Syriza.

The reasons need little explanation: a country brought to its knees by austerity and ‘The Troika’s’ impossible repayment terms took the only viable choice open to them: to back a party that offered some hope rather than utter desperation and total deprivation. Quite simply, Greece voted for survival.

A Return to Two Party Politics

Syriza and New Democracy took 64.1% of the vote between them: not quite back to the 75%+ of past elections, but clearly approaching a return to the two-party politics of Greece that preceded its financial crisis. Syriza have now pretty much surplanted PASOK entirely as the party of the left.

The chart below, showing the seats gained at each election over the last decade, demonstrates that.

Greece elections 07-15

The future? Well, that will depend on Syriza’s success.

Their decision to go into coalition with the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks shows that Syriza are steered as much by their populism as by their socialism: ANEL enable them to have an uncompromising approach to austerity that they would not have had if they had joined with To Potosi or PASOK (one with KKE was never on the cards because of the on-going bitterness stemming from Syriza’s forebears breaking away in the early nineties).

Time will tell whether Syriza’s prescription cures or kills the patient. Even though the country would have died without them, voters will not forgive Syriza if it fails.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Killingworth February 2, 2015 at 10:45 am

Mehdi Hasan has an excellent article on Syriza in the current New Statesman:


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