On 6 May, I went with my father to vote at our local polling station in Maroussi in north Athens. The anger in the queue was palpable. It was unsurprising that the centre-left Pasok had its parliamentary majority wiped out, coming third with 13 per cent of the vote and winning a mere 41 seats out of 300. Pasok’s former coalition partner, the centre-right New Democracy, came top, but with less than 19 per cent of the vote and only 108 seats, couldn’t form a government. The left-wing anti-austerity party, Syriza, came second, with just over 16 per cent of the vote and 52 seats (taken together, the various far-left parties won about a third of the vote). And the overtly fascist Golden Dawn received nearly 7 per cent of the vote, gaining 21 seats. The result may have been unclear, but the message was not: a total rejection of the EU, ECB and IMF’s bailout plan, and of austerity.
A few days after the elections, a waiter at the Café Peros in Kolonaki Square in central Athens told me that he had voted for Golden Dawn ‘to punish the 300 pigs in parliament’. ‘They say they are Nazis but I don’t care,’ he said. ‘Pasok and New Democracy are thieves; they have stolen 300 euros a month from me and the same from my wife.’ He was referring to the austerity measures. ‘And I have been working for 25 years. Golden Dawn care about the people; the pigs do not.’
Many Greeks have experienced wage cuts of up to 50 per cent, and some taxes and state levies have been raised almost tenfold. The coalition government of Pasok and New Democracy could only promise more of the same, assuring its creditors that further public spending cuts would raise another 11.4 billion euros by 2014.
In the days following the election, Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s 37-year-old leader, was to be seen on every Greek TV channel (at least those not on strike) telling the people what they wanted to hear. Under Syriza, he explained, Greece would remain in the euro but renegotiate the bailout package, making the cuts less severe – the best of both worlds, which Pasok and New Democracy knew was impossible.
Syriza’s attempts to form an anti-austerity coalition were no more successful than New Democracy’s efforts to assemble one that would continue the policy. Pasok couldn’t cobble anything together either. The final round of all-party talks broke down on 15 May, with leaders walking out and publicly accusing each other of sabotaging the discussions.
New elections have been called for 17 June. In the meantime, Greece is stuck in a period of intense crisis – and so is the eurozone. About a year ago, a former Pasok MP, George Floridis, told me that the political class needed to unite to tackle one of the darkest times in Greece’s modern history. The possibility of that happening seems more distant now than ever.
On Thursday I was in Kolonaki Square again. Greece had been without a government for almost two weeks. ‘You see?’ the waiter at the Café Peros shouted at me. ‘I was right to vote for Golden Dawn. Those other idiots can’t do anything.’