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Greece: local elections show shift to the left – and gains for fascist Golden Dawn

By Tash Shifrin | 19 May 2014

There's been a strong showing by the radical left Syriza. Pic credit: Mehran Khalili.

There’s been a strong showing by the radical left Syriza. Pic credit: Mehran Khalili.

Voters in Greece have punished the coalition government’s austerity regime in regional and municipal elections, with a strong vote for the radical left Syriza party.

But the increasingly sharp polarisation in Greek politics also showed a worrying rise in the share of the vote for the nazi Golden Dawn in the first round of the elections held on Sunday 18 May.

Syriza is only a point behind the leader in the race for mayor of Athens and is narrowly ahead in the battle for regional governor of Attica, the region surrounding the capital where about a third of the population lives.

The ruling coalition of the conservative New Democracy and social democrat Pasok parties is desperately worried about the second round of elections and – more importantly – their fate at the polls for the European Parliament, which will take place on the same day.

Voters have used this week’s first round as a referendum on austerity – even harsher in Greece than in the rest of Europe – and sent a warning shot across the government’s bows. Pasok in particular has seen its support plummet as voters move left towards Syriza.

Harsh measures

There is huge anger at the harsh austerity measures linked to the “memorandum” – the bailout by the International Monetary Fund and the EU.

In Athens, Syriza is in the tightest of races with Pasok– both will go through to the second round in the mayoral contest, but for the first time since the end of the Colonels’ regime in 1974, New Democracy will miss out on the second round.

And the contest is also neck and neck between Syriza and New Democracy for the governorship of the Ionian Islands, with Syriza just a point behind.

The nazi Golden Dawn's flags carry a distinctive swastika-style motif

The nazi Golden Dawn’s flags carry a distinctive swastika-style motif

But the results for the fascists of Golden Dawn show a worrying increase since the 2012 general election when the party came from nowhere to take 6.9% of the vote.

Although local and parliamentary elections are not always directly comparable because voting patterns can be different, the Golden Dawn share of the vote across the country has grown in these polls, to reach 7.8%.

The new results are far higher than in the last municipal elections in 2010, before the fascists’ 2012 surge, when Golden Dawn took 5.3% in Athens and less than 2% in the city of Thessaloniki and the Peloponnese region.

Fascists

This time Golden Dawn has stood in all but one of the 13 regions – and in some of these it will be encouraged by a strong vote. In Athens, Golden Dawn has won a substantial 16.1% share, putting the fascists only narrowly in fourth place behind New Democracy.

Golden Dawn has won 11.1% in Attica, 9% in the Peloponnese and Central Greece regions, 8.7% in Central Macedonia, 7.8% in Western Greece and 6.9% in Thessaly.

In total, the fascist party has picked up around 450,000 votes. This is only slightly higher in absolute numbers than the 440,000 it took in May 2012.

But the rise in the Golden Dawn vote is significant and worrying: it comes despite the widespread exposure of the party’s nazi politics since the 2012 elections – when it was a largely unknown force – and despite the fact that several of its leaders are in jail, charged with membership of a criminal organisation in the wake of the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas last year.

But with around a quarter of the population thrown out of work in the past three years, bitterness at austerity can push people into the arms of the fascists as well as to the left.

In a telling comment ahead of the poll one voter, a 45-year-old mother of two, told the Reuters news agency:

I’ll vote for Golden Dawn or Syriza. Why vote for those who have robbed us? My husband’s salary has shrunk to €600 (£488.50), I’m out of work and my young son got a night job for €400 to help us out

It’s not a matter of ideology, I don’t give a damn about their politics. My message is clear and I’ll use every opportunity to send it: Get out!

Next week’s second round will decide the key city mayors and the regional governors.

And the European elections could prove a tipping point for the government. Prime minister Samaras has urged voters to return to New Democracy so that Greece can take “stable steps” – towards more austerity. There is a possibility that more defeats for the coalition parties next week could force a general election.

European poll

But the European poll now also looks likely to see the election of Golden Dawn MEPs for the first time.

This is an election where racist and fascist parties across Europe are expected to make gains. But the Greek nazis – along with Hungary’s Jobbik – represent the most open and hardcore wing of European fascism. MEP seats for Golden Dawn will raise the bar for fascists elsewhere in Europe.



2 comments

  1. Nikos Lountos said:

    Hi Tash, I just want to stress that the political crisis is even deeper than it appears at first sight. The international media reporting on the elections focus or interpret things according to New Democracy and PASOK’s discourse – an impromptu discourse in their panic until next week’s second round and Euroelections.

    I’ll just mention two points. Athens and its region is not just one region between others. It’s one third of the national voting population. In both elections (municipality and regional) New Democracy goes without a candidate next week. This is a shock for the governing party.

    In historical perspective it’s even more important. Never in the history of the 3rd Greek republic, New Democracy has been out of the 2nd round. Athens’ municipality almost without interruption has been a stronghold of the Tories. Now the official New Democracy candidate (Spiliotopoulos) took just 16.92%. It’s a collapse. We have to take it into account for understanding the rise of Kasidiaris’ (GD) candidature. We’re talking of more and more traditional Tory voters breaking and voting in all directions.

    In the region their defeat is even bigger. Koumoutsakos (the official ND candidate) took 14.08%. Let’s not forget, we’re talking about the capital and the governing party that is trying to impose more austerity. Athens has been the centre of the class struggle and the resistance all these years. They are facing a hostile and radicalised population.

    Until now it seemed that from the two traditional “big” parties PASOK was collapsing and ND was holding ground. It’s true PASOK has fallen from the 44% of 2009 to 12% and the polls show them to take 6-7% as a coalition Olive party next week. The new step obvious in yesterday’s election is that New Democracy follows in the same way. Of course the fascist gains out of this political break-up of the Right Wing are alarming. But they have to be places in this dynamics (not to understimate the antifascist struggle. On the contrary, in order to know concretely what we’re facing so we can step up the struggle).

    Also for PASOK’s “successes” in Athens (municipality, region) and Salonica we should not forget that the candidates there participating as “independents”. PASOK had to hide its connection with them in order to let them survive. But in the Euroelections they cannot hide (at least not behind an olive tree).

    Second point, the dynamics inside the Left -something that you don’t mention. In Athens’ region (parliamentary elections) in June 2012 SYRIZA had 31.24, the Communist Party (which is to the left of SYRIZA) 5.07% and ANTARSYA (to the left of both the other parties) 0.39%. Yesterday the results where respectively: 23.8%, 10.66%, 2.09%.

    The total is similar but the balance of forces has shifted to the Left. I can’t expand more, but I think it shows something about the political dynamics.

    19 May 2014 at 6:17pm
  2. tash said:

    Thanks Niko – those are very interesting and useful points.

    19 May 2014 at 6:28pm

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