Greece Elections: Battered Socialist Leader Seeks Pro-Europe Unity Government

on May 06 2012 3:48 PM

Greece’s socialist-party leader, Evangelos Venizelos, whose Pasok organization was battered in snap parliamentary elections on Sunday, has nonetheless called for a wide coalition of parties to support both the country's membership in the euro zone and the terms of its European Union-International Monetary Fund bailouts.

Venizelos, the former finance minister whose party was punished by voters for being closely associated with the huge bailout loans that have forced the government to impose harsh austerity measures, will likely face huge obstacles in his quest.

For us in Pasok, this day is extremely painful, Venizelos said. We knew the price would be big, but we decided to pay it. We embittered people to protect the nation's future. The possibility of a national unity government must be explored.

But Venizelos conceded that it would be difficult.

A coalition government of the old two-party system would not have sufficient legitimacy or sufficient domestic and international credibility if it would gather a slim majority, Venizelos said. A government of national unity with the participation by all the parties that favor a European course, regardless of their positions toward the loan agreements, would have meaning.

There are 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament. Projections on Sunday showed the center-right New Democracy, or ND, party finishing first with about 18.9 percent of the vote, giving it 108 seats, and the center-left Pasok party taking third with about 13.4 percent of the vote, giving it 41 seats, according to the Associated Press.

Assuming this combined ND and Pasok vote total becomes official, the two parties cannot hope to form a coalition government as some had envisioned.

Syriza, an alliance of leftist parties that vehemently opposes the country's austerity program and the EU-IMF bailouts, siphoned enough votes away from Pasok that it placed second in the elections, with about 16.8 percent of the vote and 51 seats in parliament, AP reported.

Syriza thus will likely play a make-or-break role with respect to Greece’s future in the euro zone.

”After two years of barbarism, democracy is coming home,” said Alexis Tsipras, the head of Syriza. ”The people will send a loud and clear message to all of Europe.”

With 63.44 percent of the election precincts reporting, the Greek Communist party, or KKE -- which wants the country to leave the euro zone -- had attracted 8.38 percent of the vote, according to the Guardian in London.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party won enough votes -- 6.89 percent, per the Guardian -- to put members in parliament for the first time. Golden Dawn needed 5 percent to get representation in parliament.

Golden Dawn is opposed to the EU-IMF bailouts, but it does not currently want Greece to exit the euro zone. The party's principal focus is on deporting all illegal immigrants in the country -- and it has even proposed placing land mines on its Turkish border to keep migrants from entering Greece.

Meanwhile, outgoing Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said he expected a new coalition government would be formed this week. ”We are all agreed that these elections are most crucial,” he said. “Everyone has to make a decision, not just on who will govern but on what path the country will take in the coming decades.”

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