To gauge the extent of the tumult engulfing Greek politics, consider this: Since 1981, when the socialist party PASOK first won power, its combined share of the vote in national elections with the conservative Nea Demokratia, its main rival, has never fallen below 77 percent, and it often exceeded 85 percent. Recent polls for the coming contest give the two parties a joint percentage that lies between 33 and 40 percent. After the last general election, in October 2009, the two parties controlled between them 251 out of the 300 seats in parliament. Now, if the polls are to be believed, they may struggle to get to the 151 seats needed to form a viable coalition government.
When the present parliament got its start, it had five political parties. Under the pressures of the economic depression that descended upon the country, those five parties have now split into a total of ten. Polls predict that the new parliament will include at least eight. Shockingly, all recent surveys agree that one of these will be Golden Dawn (Chrysi Augi), a violently xenophobic and pro-Nazi organization which has exploited public anger over the uncontrolled influx of illegal immigrants into the country. The far left, meaning the unrepentantly Stalinist Communist Party and the fissiparous Marxists of SYRIZA, are also expecting their fiery anti-austerity rhetoric to pay electoral dividends—they are both vying for a third place finish.
It is likely that Nea Demokratia and PASOK will be the only parties in the new legislature supporting the adjustment program that is a precondition for the funds of the second bailout and for Greece’s continued membership of the euro. The two parties, then, can expect to be besieged by a growing, increasingly boisterous chorus against further austerity, both within parliament and in public opinion. They will somehow have to overcome this resistance (and their own unreformed instincts) to form a coalition that can pass, by June, further cuts worth 11.5 billion euros (more than 5 percent of GDP) for the 2013 and 2014 budgets. This in a society where unemployment has reached 21.8 percent (and a terrifying 50.8 percent for people aged 15-24); where even healthy businesses are starved of liquidity because the banks are broken; hundreds of thousands of employed men and women get their paychecks with a delay of several months.