The 2023 elections mark the end of the financial crisis era in Greece

Alexandros Kyriakidis argues that the era of political and financial crisis in Greece that spanned a decade seems to be coming to a close with the recent elections. This is demonstrated most vividly by the decline of SYRIZA, the party most closely associated with the anti-financial programme agenda

During the last 50 years, Greece resorted to repeat national elections (see paragraph 3, article 37 of the Greek Constitution): in 2012 and in 2023. These elections seem to bookend the era of the financial assistance programmes and accompanying policy structural adjustment/austerity measures in the Greek political landscape.

2012: the first post-crisis elections

The May 2012 elections were the first after the eruption of the Eurozone crisis. Greece had already implemented the first financial assistance programme in 2010, under a PASOK government. PASOK was one of the two major political parties that had ruled Greece since 1974.

The country agreed to a second assistance programme in 2012. This took place under a coalition government agreed (sans elections) between PASOK, New Democracy (the other one of the two major political parties) and the minor right-wing party of LAOS.

Voters saw both New Democracy and PASOK as responsible for Greece's dire financial and social situation. Unsurprisingly, both experienced significant declines in vote share compared with the October 2009 elections. PASOK placed third, with an approximate 70% drop (13.18% from 43.92%). New Democracy, meanwhile, came in first place but with an approximate 44% drop (18.85% from 33.47%).

In 2012, voters primarily assigned blame to PASOK and New Democracy for Greece's dire situation, while SYRIZA ran on an expressly anti-financial assistance programme platform

The frustration of the Greek electorate with the established political order and austerity measures was also reflected in the rise of smaller political parties. The left-wing party, SYRIZA, ran on an expressly anti-financial assistance but pro-EU programme platform. It came in second, experiencing an approximate 114% increase compared with October 2009 (16.78% from 4.6%). More alarmingly, the extreme right-wing party Golden Dawn, with ties to the 1967–1974 military junta regime, managed to get elected to parliament, earning 21 of 300 seats.

End of the old order

No party managed to form a government, and repeat elections were held a month later, in June 2012. Under the looming danger of extreme political volatility, the first two parties (New Democracy and SYRIZA) increased their percentages by an approximate 10% each. A coalition government eventually formed between New Democracy, PASOK, and the minor left/centre-left party, Democratic Left. This was the end of the bi-polar (PASOK and New Democracy) political status quo that had dominated the Greek political system since 1974.

2023: watershed elections

On 21 May, Greece held snap elections, approximately two months before the government’s term expired. The results yielded an overwhelming majority for New Democracy: 40.79% of the votes, against 20.07% for SYRIZA and 11.46% for PASOK-KINAL.

Despite its high percentage, New Democracy was unable to form a government because of a change the previous SYRIZA-led coalition government made to the electoral system. Previously, this had been a reinforced-proportionality system (Law 3231/2004). This meant that 50 out of the total 300 seats in Parliament were awarded as a ‘bonus’ to the party that came first in the election. Now, it became a simple proportional system (Law 4406/2016), with all 300 seats allocated proportionally.

Because of the simple-proportional system, New Democracy's high vote percentage did not let them form a government. Repeat elections were therefore held under the qualified reinforced-proportional system

New Democracy reinstated a qualified reinforced-proportionality system after the July 2019 elections. This allocated 20 out of the 300 seats in Parliament as a 'bonus' to the first-placed party, and one seat for each additional 0.5% of the votes, to a maximum of 50 ‘bonus’ seats. However, the relevant law (4654/2020) passed with fewer than 200 votes in Parliament. As a result, the new system could only apply in the elections after the immediately following ones.

A tale of two systems

The 21 May elections, therefore, took place under the SYRIZA-introduced simple proportional system. Based on this, with over 40% of the votes, New Democracy achieved 146/300 seats in Parliament. Even so, forming a single-party or coalition government was not possible. Therefore, repeat elections were proclaimed for 25 June, under the reinstated, qualified reinforced-proportionality system.

New Democracy came first again with almost the same percentage (40.56%). But under the new system, it obtained 158/300 seats in Parliament and was able to form a government. SYRIZA, meanwhile, lost approximately 2.5% more votes just within this one month. Alexis Tsipras resigned a few days later, after a consecutive 15-year term as party leader. He had, however, led them through consistent election losses since 2019.

End of the financial crisis era

The 2023 elections seem to mark the end of Greece's financial crisis era that began with the 2012 elections. The three financial assistance programmes, and the accompanying structural adjustment, focused largely on tough, front-loaded austerity measures. They left a lasting mark on Greek society and its political system.

The three financial assistance programmes left a lasting mark on Greek society and its political system

It is indicative that the party that ushered Greece into the first programme – PASOK – has not only failed to regain its pre-crisis electoral percentages, but has been in a steady decline. It has only narrowly managed to stay above 10% for the past ten years, even after multiple changes in leadership. Three important factors have contributed to the shifts in electoral outcomes between 2012 and 2023.

First, the Greek economy has been steadily improving. To an extent, this challenges SYRIZA's platform as an expressly anti-austerity party. Second, SYRIZA revealed that they lacked any experience of the Greek and EU governance framework. Overall, they failed to sufficiently adapt to this framework during their time in government.

Third, New Democracy presented a solid, experienced alternative, especially after its change of leadership in 2016. Additionally, it seems that PASOK absorbed most of the blame for the earlier crisis. New Democracy seems to have been perceived as less responsible.

It appears, therefore, that the primacy of the financial assistance programmes in the politics of Greece, which began in 2012, largely ended with the 2023 elections. This is demonstrated not least by the rise and fall of SYRIZA. Its rise began in 2012 as a party expressly opposed to the financial assistance programmes, promoting national independence instead. SYRIZA's fall in 2023 was dramatic. And it is, perhaps, no coincidence that these are the only cases of a repeat election in Greece resulting from the failure to form a government.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Alexandros Kyriakidis
Alexandros Kyriakidis
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, LUISS Guido Carli University

Alexandros is also Head of Operations and Research at the University of Macedonia's Center for Research on Democracy and Law.

He has held postdoctoral positions at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and the University of Macedonia.

He is Principal Investigator of the research projects Observatory of Government Restrictive Measures for the Covid-19 Pandemic (GovRM-COVID19), and Politics and the Justice System of the United States of America (USPOLJUST).

His research interests include EU, Greek, and US politics and law, democratic theory, and international political economy.

He tweets @Kyriakidis_Alex

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