Global Politics

Greece's future uncertain after voters reject austerity supporters

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Leader of the Left Coalition party Alexis Tsipras, right, meets leader of Democratic Left party Fotis Kouvelis in Athens May 8, 2012. Greece's Left Coalition party got an historic chance on Tuesday to form a government after the mainstream conservat

Greek voters, fed up with five years of recession coupled with two years of harsh austerity measures, dealt a huge blow to the major political parties in parliamentary elections on Sunday.

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Many Greeks chose parties promising to roll back or amend the austerity deals that Greece has struck with Europe and the International Monetary Fund.

For the past three decades, a center-right and a center-left party have essentially handed power back and forth in Greece. In fact, it was a coalition of those two parties that worked together recently to ensure the country met its austerity targets to secure promises of more EU bailout money.

But it seems Greek voters have had enough of austerity, and the parties — both far left and far right — that promised no more of it got the vote.

The result is a tumultuous new political landscape.

“This is a totally new reality. All hell has broken loose. Even the winners have been shocked by the election,” said Stephanos Kassimatis, a columnist for the Kathimerini newspaper. “It’s a contradiction. Seventy percent of the people in this country want to stay in the European Union. At the same time, the same percentage do not want to bear the consequences of that choice.”

In other words, the Greeks want to be in the eurozone, but they don’t want to pay the bill, and the far-left and far-right candidates capitalized on this — especially the left-wing coalition called Syriza, which finished second with more than 16 percent of the vote.

Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, said the message was clear.

“The European people cannot compromise with the barbaric bailouts, they cannot legitimize an undignified future,” Tsipras said on Monday.

He added that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “needs to understand that the policy of austerity has suffered a huge defeat.”

Tzipras vowed his party would do “whatever is necessary” to “have a government that will condemn the bailout agreement and cancel austerity measures.”

Merkel voiced her own opinion on that line of thinking.

“The voting result is not uncomplicated,” Merkel said. 

he emphasized that what’s important is the economic and fiscal measures that Greece has already agreed to be continued.

“There is no alternative,” she said, adding that, “Now is the time for Greece to figure out how to form a coalition government.”

But that’s not going to be easy, given that the pro-austerity parties are now so unpopular, and the anti-austerity parties run the gamut from communist to far-right nationalist.

Some are skeptical that anyone will be able to form a coalition, at least a stable one that can actually govern or pay off debts. And as time slips away, the markets will mete out their own punishment, according to Pippa Malmgren, a former senior economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

“Time is money,” Malmgren said. “The more time the politicians take to deal with this problem, or make the payments, the more costly it will be. Because the markets will make it more expensive, and interest rates will go up.”

Under Greece’s current bailout plan, the country is supposed to find about $12 billion more in cuts by next month — in order to qualify for more bailout money.

The clock is definitely ticking.

On Monday, New Democracy — the party that garnered the most votes in Sunday’s elections — made an initial stab at trying to form a coalition. Its leader that evening said he had given up — after less than a day.