Driving into the town of Chania you can still see on bustops and notice boards old faded rainbow coloured Syriza posters left over from last January’s election campaign. “Hope is coming” and “Europe is Changing” they declare.
And for just a few months after the election, there was hope. People felt that they would at last get a different government, a government willing to negotiate against the crippling austerity imposed by the lenders for the last five years, a government that would stick to its commitment to work towards a fairer taxation system, some basic social welfare and a new government that would root out corruption, clientism and the privileges of the Greek oligarchs.
But after six months of failed negotiations where Greece’s European partners stubbornly refused to listen to any of the Greek proposals and after a resounding ‘no’ to further austerity from the Greek people in a referendum, the SYRIZA government accepted unconditionally the humiliating terms of the lenders.
Strangely enough the popularity of Alexis Tsipras remained inexplicably high throughout the negotiations, when Greece was tittering on the edge of Grexit, all through the mud slinging of the referendum campaign, through the imposition of capital controls and even in defeat, when lenders programme was passed in parliament in an emergency session and only with the support of the opposition.
But as the election draws closer, Syriza and New Democracy run neck and neck with the undecided the third largest group of voters, according to the polls.
Greek voters can’t decide
Voters disillusioned by the Tsipras acceptance of the new memorandum and his party’s claims that it was an honourable agreement, do not seem to know who to vote for. In any case, they have now learnt that their vote does not matter. Europe will decide the policies of the next Greek government regardless of what choice the Greek electorate will make. Europe controls the banks and has shown that is prepared to starve out a disobedient government through a comprehensive financial blockade.
In the past Greek voters often choose their governments on ideological grounds; maybe because of a traditional dislike of the right or the left that stems back to the civil war, maybe because traditionally their parents always voted that way, or because of their deferential attachment to a party leader who takes good care of his supporters. But it was far more common to vote for a certain party because of an ‘obligation’ to one of the politicians involved. People on the whole voted for the politician who offered personal favours – the one that appointed one of their family to the public sector or who wrote off their parking tickets.
But after five years of continuing recession many people put political loyalties aside and in the January election voted for hope and what they thought would be the country’s liberation from pointless servitude to cruel foreign creditors.
However, making voting decisions in this election is a little bit more complicated, as there is very little room for political promises. The politicians can only promise their commitment to another thirty years of austerity and debt servitude or a life of international isolation outside Europe that could, with a little extra punishment from the lenders, turn Greece into a version of Cuba in Europe but without the Russian support. Neither of which is an outright vote winner.
So, it remains to be seen if the Greek electorate will return to trusting the old guard of politicians from New Democracy, one of the parties that brought the country to ruin, or if the relative newcomer, Alexis Tsipras, can convince people once again that his and his party’s best days lie ahead. Will people prefer the former New democracy defence minister with a lifetime of involvement in parliamentary politics, or the young leftist who underestimated Europe’s power and its determination to eliminate dissent?
In his resignation speech Tsipras returned to the theme of rooting out corruption and cronyism, the creation of a more just state that will be friendlier towards its citizens that will not tolerate nepotism and corruption.
In the last six months however, the Syriza government caught up in the frantic negotiation with the lenders, has done very little to move the country towards these worthwhile ideals.
But, who knows, maybe they will try to harder if they were to get another chance. Hope, as they say, dies last.