Anti-austerity Syriza coalition achieves historic win in Greece

By staff writers
January 25, 2015

Tens of thousands of people flooded onto the streets in Greece this evening, as early results and exit polls indicated a significant Syriza victory in the 25 January 2015 snap general election.

Later the New Democracy (ND) party conceded defeat, and in his victory speech Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said that Greece "leaves behind the poverty of catastrophe, leaves behind five years of suffering".

He added that "the Greek government will be ready to co-operate and negotiate with our friends for a just and constructive solution".

ND leader Antonis Samaras, backed by the establishment across Europe, had promised further privatizations, a corporate tax rate reduced to 15 per cent and a recapitalization of Greece's banks - a package soundly rejected by the Greek electorate.

Since he will just fall short of an outright majority, PM designate Tsipras will now meet with ANEL (Independent Greek) leader Panos Kammenos on Tuesday 27 January, to discuss coalition arrangement.

Syriza (an acronym for Radical Coalition of the Left) has pledged to challenge the austerity narrative in Europe, renegotiate Greece's mountainous debt, and ensure "a return to social dignity and social justice", a party spokesperson said.

"What's clear is we have a historic victory that sends a message that does not only concern the Greek people, but all European peoples," spokesperson Panos Skourletis declared on Greek television this evening.

Austerity has been a disaster for Greece. The debt that amounted to 175.1% of GDP in 2013 has continued to grow, while the economy has shrunk by nearly a quarter and poverty and social collapse has escalated. Half the country's youth are without jobs.

Syriza wants to boost the economy, reschedule and write off debt, reform the financial sector, end cuts hitting the most vulnerable, and force a change of direction within the Eurozone, at the European Central Bank and in the IMF (the so-called Troika).

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a relative social liberal domestically, has backed hard-right austerity policies and joined those targetting social spending, the reality is that public sector debt is not Greece's main problem.

Rather it is post-2008 recessionary policies that have crippled the economy, with estimated tax evasion costs of over $20 billion per year, a 'black economy' that has grown to 24% of GDP, and huge corruption in the corporate sector.

The Maastricht rules were also by-passed when financial derivative-based 'swaps' were not registered as credits by Eurostat. Furthermore, right-wing Greek governments fiddled the figures to benefit their commercial allies, and in 2010 it was discovered that Greece had paid Goldman Sachs and other banks hundreds of millions of dollars in fees since 2001, facilitating transactions that hid the actual level of borrowing.

Since 2010, the IMF, European governments and the European Central Bank have lent €252 billion to Greece. Over the same period, €232.9 billion has been spent on debt payments, bailing out Greek banks and paying ‘sweeteners’ to speculators to get them to accept the 2012 debt restructuring. This means less than 10% of the money has been used for anything else.

Syriza says it wants to keep the Euro, while pressing for major structural change in the EU. Its victory will inspire Poderemos in Spain and other anti-austerity, green and left-wing movements across the continent.

The party came to prominence in the wave of protests that shook Greece in 2008 following its first recession. It has based its self in social movements and has brought together radical social democrats, greens, Eurocommunists, some Trotskyites, many progressive Christians, democratic socialists and alter-globalisation activists.

In 2012 Syriza became the second largest party in the Greek parliament as well as the main opposition party.

It came in first in the 2014 European Parliament election, while by the middle of the year polls indicated that it had become the country's most popular party.

Commenting on the elections, The Observer newspaper in the UK declared: "This is not simply a protest vote. To a degree, the election outcome is an admission that the pervasive corruption, tax-dodging, cronyism, irresponsibility and apathy of the past, of which so many in Greek society were guilty, can no longer be afforded. It is recognition that the self-interest and ineptitude of the discredited mainstream parties contributed to the disaster.

"But the vote is also a powerful statement that a damaging, externally imposed policy of depressive economic retrenchment that produced 25% unemployment, put three million people on or below the poverty line and left Greece close to social breakdown is unwise, unwanted and ineffective."

Syriza is right to be demanding cancellation of the debt which comes from bailing out European banks, said the Jubilee Debt Campaign last night.

* Syriza website (in English): http://syriza.net.gr/index.php/en/

* Alexis Tsipras victory speech (audiobook, with translation): http://audioboom.com/boos/2828498-alexis-tsipras-victory-speech

* Syriza right not to bail out banks, says Jubilee Debt Campaign: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21370

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