For most of the post-authoritarian era (the so-called “Third Greek Republic”), which is the period starting with the return to democracy in 1974, after the end of the seven-year dictatorship of the colonels, Greece had one of the few remaining two-party systems in Europe, similar to Britain and Malta. Noteworthy is the fact that the different electoral systems adopted in this period were not purely majoritarian ones. On the contrary, over all these years different electoral systems of “reinforced proportionality” were in effect, which produced significantly disproportional results in terms of the conversion of votes to seats. The long tradition of majoritarianism in Greek politics was translated in the formation of single-party majority governments (with the exception of two short-lived coalition governments in 1989-1990) and an alternation to government between the socialist party of PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) and the conservative party of New Democracy (ND), even though PASOK was for more years the incumbent party up to the onset of the economic crisis in 2010. Moreover, different studies concluded that another defining characteristic in this post-authoritarian period is the unidimensional structure of the ideological space around the left-right dimension. The salience of this single axis of political competition can be attributed to the historical legacy of the major political conflicts of the 20th century, which produced enduring political identities that survived well intothe post-authoritarian period, namely the “Right”, the “Centre” and the “Left” (Moschonas 1995).This feature has been a main characteristic of Greek politics for most of the 20th century despite political regime changes, and even though the only party that continues to exist from the pre-authoritarian period is the KKE (Communist party) (see Tsatsanis & Teperoglou 2020). Furthermore, for the study of the Greek political landscape, it is necessary to keep in mind that -contrary to Western and Northern European countries -this unidimensional left-right space was never similar to its classic (materialistic) definition; it mostly captured a conflict over socio-political values given thelate industrialization of the country and the absence of a classic labor-capital class cleavage. One of the findings of our study is that nowadays the Greek political space is no longer unidimensional but is best captured by a two-dimensional space.
The main characteristics of the political and party system from 1974 were changed with the onset of the sovereign debt crisis that hit the country back in 2010. The political consequences of the crisis manifested relatively rapidly and were far reaching. The “double” earthquake elections of 2012 (May and June) in which the two-party system collapsed (e.g PASOK and ND saw their combined vote share drop by 45 percentage points) led to the fragmentation of the Greek party system. From 2012 to 2019 the country experienced a period of coalition governance, namely the coalition governments between PASOK, ND and the populist right party of LAOS (2012), then the one by PASOK and ND (2012-2015) with the participation of the centre-left party of Democratic Left (for one year), and finally the coalition between the radical left party of SYRIZA and the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party from 2015 to 2019. From the first bailout agreement signed by PASOK back in May 2010 and up to the last parliamentary elections of 2019, Greece held five parliamentary elections, two European elections, as well as a referendum over the terms of a new bailout agreement. This dense and busy political timeline was accompanied by two more bailout programs for the country. All this contributed to particularly high levels of fluidity in the political environment, upending established patterns of electoral behavior in the country. The period of the economic crisis saw the emergence of a new political divide that cut across the traditional left-right political dimension: the “pro-anti bailout divide”. This conflict, between those in favour of the bailout agreement and those against it, dominated the political landscape in Greece throughout the years of the economic crisis and overshadowed other political issues. Overall, the polarization along the pro- and anti-bailout camps reached its peak during the first term of the SYRIZA and ANEL coalition government. It wasthe period in whichtwo challenger parties werein power and, in the first months of their term, they refused to comply with the terms of the creditors leading the country towards a very polarized referendum about the terms of the new bailout agreement. Despite the fact that the majority of Greek citizens voted against this agreement, the coalition government was forced to sign it, given that the referendum result did not increase its leverage in the negotiations against the creditors (possibly the opposite happened) (Tsatsanis, Teperoglou and Seriatos 2020).
Perhaps the only other salient issue that emerged in this period was the one related to the immigration and refugee crises. The pro-memorandum versus anti-memorandum political conflict encompassed discussions about the responsibility and blame attribution for the economic crisis. Back in 2012 the anger of Greek voters was directed against the two main parties of the “old establishment”, namely PASOK and ND. Moreover, given the fact that many Greeks viewed the European Union as the main culprit for the crisis, the levels of Euroscepticism increased too. Positions in favor or against the European Union appeared to be aligned during the crisis with the pro/anti-bailout dimension. As we will see in this report, in the current post-memorandum period, stances towards the European Union appear to be aligned with the socio-cultural axis, i.e. attitudes on a range of social, cultural and political issues.
During the second term of the SYRIZA-ANEL government the Greek economy was stabilized, with the last bailout program expiring on 20 August 2018.Especially in the period after the referendum, we can conclude that the pro/anti-bailout debate ceased to be salient given the fact that the two governmental parties – whose coalition was based on the shared rejection of the bailout agreements- implemented harsh austerity measures under a new bailout program.
The European elections of 2019 and the snap parliamentary elections that took place a few weeks later ended the norm of coalition governments of the previous period and signaled the beginning of a return back to the traditional two-party system with ND and SYRIZA as the two main political actors/ protagonists. The latter party has replaced PASOK in this two-party system duopoly.The main aim of this report is to present the dimensionality of the Greek political space after the 2019 parliamentary elections and in the shadow of the pandemic crisis.
In the party-specific reports included in this study, the contributors analyze the valence issues for each political party.
As shown in Figure 1, the Greek political landscape in the post-memorandum period has atwo-dimensional structure, as discussed above. In an attempt to capture the complexity of contemporary Greek politics, we have tried to explore the peculiar alignment on the vertical axis of political competition between authoritarian versus libertarian with pro/ anti- integration positions. Therefore, we produced two additional separate figures; one with only European issues on the vertical axis (see Figure 2) and another with only the sociocultural issues (see Figure 3). The main conclusions could be summarized in three main points:
1. There seems to be some degree of polarization along the left-right axis, particularly between conservative ND and the left-of-center parties (SYRIZA, KINAL, KKE, MeRA25). For Greek Solution, economic issues appear to be less salient and its position on the economy is somewhat ambivalent - same as other right-wing populist parties in Europe.
2. Figure 2 reveals that the European dimension cross-cuts the left-right economic divide and that European issues are predominantly responsible for the two-dimensional character of the Greek party system. Even though parties on the left (especially the KKE) were always the main representatives of Euroscepticism in Greece, the politicization of EU-related issues during the economic crisis has had an impact on the structure of political competition. In the previous decades, the overwhelmingly pro-EU stance of the Greek electorate meant that this dimension of competition was mostly dormant. What is most noteworthy in this figure is the extent to which the pro-/anti-European axis divides and discriminates among the parties of the left, which adopt positions across the entire spectrum. ND and KINAL are presented as the main pro-European parties, whereas the communist party belongs to the hard-eurosceptic group. The position of SYRIZA and MeRA25 reflect their more general strategic choice to rely upon more eurocritical stances. While, we believe that there is a tendency towards an emergence of a transnational cleavage in Greece (Hooghe&Marks 2018), it is too soon to tell whether this will be transformed into a stable cleavage or will remain a rather ephemeral division.
3. Once the European integration dimension is removed (Figure3), the findings seem to go in line with the classic argument made by Herbert Kitschelt (1994) on European party system. Kitschelt argued that there is a left-libertarian vs right-authoritarian dimension of political competition. However, certain party legacies and ideological features (e.g. the unreformed communist ideology of KKE) or the catch-all character of other parties (e.g. the coexistence of liberal with traditionalist and authoritarian tendencies within ND) somewhat complicates the structure of competition.
Hooghe, L. & Marks, G. (2018) 'Cleavage theory meets Europe’s crises: Lipset, Rokkan, and the transnational cleavage', Journal of European Public Policy, 25:1, 109-135, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2017.1310279.
Kitschelt, H.(1994) The transformation of European Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Moschonas, G. (1995) The cleavage of right-anti-right in metapolitefsis. Greek Political Culture Today. Athens: Ulysses, pp. 159-215. (in Greek)
Tsatsanis, E. & Teperoglou, E. (2020) ‘Greece’s coalition governments: power sharing in a majoritarian democracy’, Coalition Government as a Reflection of a Nation’s Politics and Society ,edM.Evans , Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 224–243.
Tsatsanis, E., Teperoglou, E. & Seriatos, A. (2020) 'Two-partyism Reloaded: Polarisation, Negative Partisanship, and the Return of the Left-right Divide in the Greek Elections of 2019', South European Society and Politics, DOI: 10.1080/13608746.2020.1855798
by Eftichia Teperoglou
Neof. Vamva Str. 4
VU University Amsterdam / Founder of Kieskompas BV
Analyst - Kieskompas BV