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Up Front

Syriza won the latest elections in Greece: Here is what it means for the reform agenda

Those people who followed the latest elections in Greece know that Syriza won again, with around 35 percent of the votes. Fewer observers may have noticed that it lost 325,000 votes, or 6 percent of the vote share. And yet, surprisingly, New Democracy—the center-right opposition party—performed poorly for the third consecutive election, winning only around 28 percent and losing around 200,000 votes.

The good news is that Greek voters now fully understand that the country is in a real mess and totally dependent on European credit. Such a realization might have brought New Democracy more votes, as polls were predicting before the elections. But the weakness of the party representing mostly the middle-class shows a transformation that has been under way in Greece since the crisis began: the most dynamic parts of the middle-class either have left the country or have become so disillusioned by domestic politics that they refused to participate. Forty-five percent of eligible voters simply stayed home, most of them ordinary, middle-class voters.

So, the political terrain has been left to Syriza again, with populist Alexis again telling voters that he needs one more chance and promising that he will re-negotiate with the creditors Or, at least, he will try to mitigate the pain from upcoming reforms. So, despite huge abstention, Syriza again secured enough MPs to form a coalition government with the right-wing Independent Greeks.

Now, there is something more that most readers would like to know regarding the competence of the new government and, as a consequence, the possibility, this time, of a real and creative implementation of the program. Well, the government might still be incompetent. Compared with the previous period (January to July 2015), very few Ministers have been changed. However, this time we can be confident the program will be fully implemented. With trust in the Greek government still low, the so-called “institutions”—the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European stability Mechanism, and the International Monetary Fund—will this time do whatever it takes to prepare the laws by themselves and calibrate the details of the conditionalities. Yet, there is another thing in favor of the full implementation of the program. The mentality of voters has changed, which has helped Tsipras perform 180 degree U-turn towards realism. Syriza desperately needs the creditors’ money to stay in government as without them, the country will again end up in chaos. The fact that a similar program has been fully implemented and indeed succeeded in Cyprus means Tsipras should be able to implement the measures without attracting voters’ ire. It is now becoming more and more evident that despite the program’s flaws, Greece’s tradeable sector is too weak to lead the country to a strong recovery alone.

More worrying for Greeks is the dearth of quality social capital. Schools and universities are suffering, the media are corrupted and populist, and almost every part of cultural and social life is in decay. The political and social climate is so toxic that not only are voters left disappointed but any creative force is frustrated. So, this time, while creditors may take heart from the prospect of dealing with moderated government still furious with austerity, they also have to deal with a country which is exhausted and disappointed by its own mistakes. 

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