Tuesday, 16 September 2014

To Potami's rise and Golden Dawn's strife shake things up for May vote


Photo from http://topotami.gr/ Photo from http://topotami.gr/

Just as it looked as if May’s European Parliament elections would be an antagonistic but relatively sterile battle between New Democracy and SYRIZA, with Golden Dawn a shoe-in for third place, journalist Stavros Theodorakis is threatening to upset this apparent balance.

When Theodorakis, the presenter of Mega TV’s Protagonistes (Protagonists) weekly show, announced earlier this month that he would be launching his own party – To Potami (The River) - there was much scepticism and scorn from all parts of the political spectrum. Theodorakis was dismissed as a likeable lightweight who could not add anything to Greek politics with his vaguely centrist message.

The TV presenter, whose documentary-style show focuses mostly on social issues, added to this impression by failing to detail any policies or name any candidates when he officially launched the party on March 4.

However, a series of opinion polls published in the wake of To Potami’s launch indicate Theodorakis will be a force to be reckoned with in the May 25 vote.

It is still too early to say if To Potami has the potential to carry this kind of support right through to the European elections or whether it is just going through a honeymoon period. Nevertheless, the surprisingly high ratings Theodorakis’s party has so far received despite the fact its policies and intentions remain indistinct indicates there is a section of the Greek electorate looking for an outlet for its frustration with the traditional parties.

In an increasingly fragmented political landscape, which has seen at least 15 parties created since the June 2012 national elections, any party able to approach or reach double figures stands a good chance of making an impact on developments in Greece.

Golden Dawn has already shown this. Its rise from 6.9 percent in the June 2012 vote to double digits in opinion polls over recent months shook the Greek political establishment and caused concern about the kind of momentum the party would have if it achieved a strong showing in this year’s European Parliament elections.

However, the neofascist party is now suffering its first real crisis, which has coincided with a slight slip in the polls. Its leader Nikos Michaloliakos is in pre-trial custody following last September’s murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member and all the party’s MPs are to be charged with belonging to a criminal organization. But the biggest blow to the party so far came on Saturday when one of its lawmakers, Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos, said he was quitting the party. He claimed that he had been unaware of its criminal activities and could no longer continue being part of Golden Dawn.

On Tuesday, another lawmaker - Stathis Boukouras - was thrown out of the party's parliamentary group after rumours that he was preparing to quit. This brought the party's number of MPs down to 16 from 18.

This is the first sign of internal conflict within the far-right group, which has so far presented a fiercely united front in the face of opposition attacks, media criticism and the ongoing judicial probe. It is too early to ascertain whether this will trigger a further unravelling within the Neo-Nazi party and if its poll ratings will be affected further, leading to a poorer showing the May vote than many had expected until recently.

That the appearance of To Potami and Golden Dawn’s strife should happen at the same time is a coincidence but one that means that the outcome of the European elections is far from a foregone conclusion.