Foreign Policy: The Greeks Don't Want A Grexit
Louis Klarevas is a senior Fulbright scholar in Greece.
Global markets are on pins and needles awaiting the results of this Sunday's parliamentary election in Greece. The problem is that no one seems to know which party will win, breeding further anxiety. One of the biggest fears is that an "anti-memorandum" coalition will emerge that rejects the bailout terms currently in place between Greece and the "troika" of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund. If this happens, a chorus of analysts say, Greece could be forced to exit the eurozone, threatening the future of the continental currency.
But all this uncertainty overlooks what we doknow about how Greeks will vote and what the next coalition government is likely to do regardless of which party emerges victorious on Sunday. Numerous surveys of Greek voters taken during the past month have revealed what the near future likely holds, meaning there are more certainties than commentators let on.
For starters, two parties are clearly out in front: the right-wing New Democracy and left-wing SYRIZA. One of these two parties will win this Sunday, earning a 50-seat bonus in the legislature. However, neither party will secure the approximately 40 percent of the vote needed to form a post-bonus majority government on its own. Therefore, any new government that is formed after the June 17 election will be a coalition government, meaning it will be hypersensitive to mainstream public sentiments.
And what are those sentiments? Most Greeks are worried that no one is at the helm of the Greek ship. For them, priority No. 1 is to ensure that the election produces a viable government wherein the political parties cooperate to avoid a "Grexit" from the euro. Unless the next government of Greece is foolish enough to defy the solid preferences of its electorate, we can be fairly confident it will take the necessary steps to implement the two-fold mandate of the people: relax the austerity measures and stick with the common currency.
According to a recent survey by the polling company MARC, only 9 percent of the Greek public wants the next government to continue implementing the harsh terms of the bailout memorandum agreed to in February. That does not, however, mean that Greeks oppose the troika's conditional assistance. Two recent surveys found that only one in five Greeks wants to do away with the memorandum altogether. After two years of continuing hardship in a contracting economy, most Greeks instead want a new government that will pursue a modification of the current austerity measures. Renegotiation, not rejection, is the nuanced position of the Greek people. And that's exactly the position the next government in turn will adopt, regardless of which party wins on Sunday.
The other clearly established preference is for Greece to stay in the eurozone and avoid a return to the drachma. Polls have consistently found that between 70 and 85 percent of the population wants to maintain the euro. A GPO poll even found that 81 percent of Greek voters surveyed in late May thought Greece should stick with the common currency "at all costs."
Keeping the euro is arguably the policy objective of greatest importance to the Greek people. The euro trumps all, including the memorandum. One survey found that, even if sticking with the euro would require "faithfully implementing" the existing harsh bailout terms, Greeks would accept the sacrifice. This is of course an extreme scenario, and most Greeks still seek a renegotiation of the agreement. But if push comes to shove, Greeks are willing to accept the pain of austerity if it ensures they can stay on the euro.
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