Alexis Tsipras, who by any standard has had a difficult year, is enjoying a moment of real triumph today after his radical-left Syriza party was returned to power in Greece. Tsipras will resume the position of prime minister that he resigned last month to bring on the early election (see my preview here).
Latest official results, with 97.8% of polling places reporting, show Syriza with a comfortable 35.5% of the vote, down only 0.8% from January’s result. Its main rival, the centre-right New Democracy, is back on 28.1%, up just 0.3%. The neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn remain in third place, but it’s a very distant third on 7.0% (up 0.7%).
It was suggested beforehand that the polls were understating the Syriza vote, and so it proved: most polls had showed Syriza and New Democracy pretty much neck and neck. Opinion pollsters will be glad when this year is over. This was their second embarrassing failure in Greece, after they predicted that July’s bailout referendum would be close, and comes on top of equally poor results in Britain, Poland and Denmark.
But for Tsipras it’s a vindication of his approach to the country’s debt crisis. The dissident left wing of his party, which split off over opposition to the bailout terms and formed the new Popular Unity, managed only 2.9%, thus failing to clear the 3% threshold for parliamentary representation.
With the winner’s bonus that the system gives it, Syriza will have 145 of the 300 seats in parliament, and will apparently renew its coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL), who scraped back with 3.7% and ten seats (down three). But if Tsipras finds them troublesome he has plenty of other options, including the two centrist parties To Potami, with 4.1% and 11 seats (down six), and the Union of Centrists, entering parliament for the first time with 3.4% and nine seats.
So in total it was very much a status quo election, with Greek voters largely sticking with the positions they held in January. It’s particularly interesting that the growing refugee crisis in the region seems to have had so little impact – there’s no sign of Syriza having suffered from its liberal position on the issue. Perhaps, contrary to media wisdom, anti-immigrant parties are not destined to sweep all before them in Europe.
Despite all the drama of his first term, in some ways the most interesting part of Tsipras’s tenure is just beginning. Having seen off challenges from both left and right, and with the parameters of what can and cannot be changed set by the July agreement with the creditors, he now has a mandate to carry through reforms in Greek society that might prevent a similar crisis in the future.
But Greece has defeated many reformers in the past, and there are powerful vested interests standing in the way. It’s also not clear just how committed Syriza’s left-wing voters are to the project of making Greece live within its means. Time will tell.