Why Greeks voted the way they did

A crude summary might be that in the May election Greeks voted with anger, and in the June election, with fear.

In European capitals, and in Washington for that matter, there would have been sighs of relief.

The great fear outside of Greece was that Alexis Tsipras, and his radical left Syriza coalition, would come first, and put his country on a collision course with its creditors.

The consequences of this might have been disastrous, and not just for the Eurozone.

During the campaign foreign leaders were at first restrained, but in the end increasingly shrill, as to the potential dangers of a Tsipras victory.

Greeks don’t like being told what to do, and some of the outside advice was so clumsily delivered it might have been counter-productive, but there’s no doubt that a substantial part of the electorate here shared the fears of foreign leaders.

Hence New Democracy’s narrow victory.

A crude summary might be that in the May election Greeks voted with anger, and in the June election, with fear.

The previous campaign was a referendum on two years of austerity, whereas this one was more clearly defined in terms of what comes next for Greece.

Samaras, the New Democracy leader, put it starkly, as a choice of euro versus a return to the drachma.

The vast majority of Greeks cling to the hope of staying in the eurozone, and dread the alternative, so this message had resonance.

Syriza’s initial argument, that the rest of Europe would not dare throw Greece out of the eurozone because of the potential danger to other economies, smacked of dangerous recklessness to many Greeks.

I have friends who voted for New Democracy whilst holding their noses.

Some dislike Samaras, but they believed a Syriza government would have been ruinous for Greece.

New Democracy, and Samaras, do not have inspiring track records.

Remember, this was the inept and corrupt party that governed Greece so disastrously from 2004-2009, a period when so many problems were ignored and allowed to fester.

And, bitter irony, the same European leaders who were praying for a Samaras victory in this election had considered him to be a feckless and unreliable opportunist from 2009-2011, because of his opposition to the initial austerity measures adopted by the then Papandreou government.

They felt Samaras was putting personal ambition before the national interest, a conviction only strengthened by his insistence in elections this May, which in turn provoked the current political confusion.

Nonetheless, a new Greek government will surely emerge sooner rather than later, if only because the consequences of prolonging the hiatus are catastrophic for the economy.

European leaders will surely make some concessions to this government, perhaps by allowing austerity measures to be introduced at a more gradual pace.

Syriza will be in opposition, and may be privately grateful to escape the responsibilities of governing Greece at this desperate time.

Syriza’s message, that people cannot take any more austerity, was also a powerful one – like New Democracy, Syriza’s share of the vote grew by over 10 per cent.

A more detailed break-down of the vote shows Greeks divided by age and geography.

The young – remember the shocking levels of youth unemployment – went for SYRIZA by big margins, whilst the over-55s voted New Democracy by even greater margins.

The cities voted for Syriza, the countryside voted for New Democracy.

If there was any doubt about the strains on Greek society, look at the performance of the Golden Dawn, the ultra-extreme far right party.

It defied all expectations and clung onto almost seven per cent of the vote.

Yes, once again more than 400,000 Greeks voted for a party that relishes street-violence and encourages hatred of minorities.

“It’s a matter of great shame,” a prominent Greek commentator told me last night. “Not just to the Greeks but to all of Europe, that this is what this country has come to.”

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