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Greece: as New Democracy heads for a landslide, fringe parties jostle to squeeze into Parliament

With the formerly ascendant, Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party broken, its leadership in prison, and the anti-Western left defanged, Greece’s political fringes are looking more gauche than sinister.

Still, up to five small parties – three on the far right and two on the far left – could conceivably reach the 3% support needed to enter Parliament in Sunday’s repeat elections, despite a swing back to mainstream politicians as the scars of the 10-year financial crisis gradually heal.

That would increase the parties in Parliament from five to a maximum nine, sapping the majority of the center-right New Democracy, which is expected to retain its 20-percentage-point lead from a first vote last month but wants an absolute majority to avoid the need to form a coalition. If New Democracy finds it can’t govern alone, it could seek a third election during the August peak holiday season.

The small parties’ performance “will affect the outcome, as the more parties that manage to elect lawmakers, the higher the threshold for New Democracy to win a majority,” analyst Wolfango Piccoli from Teneo said.

“Moreover, the entry of more fringe parties into Parliament – especially from the extreme right spectrum – could complicate the legislative process over the next four years.”

On the right, Greek Solution won 4.4% on May 21 by dredging the populist conservative depths that New Democracy eschewed years ago. Even further from the mainstream, newcomer Niki (“Victory”), offers a mix of Orthodox Christian traditionalism and nationalism.

While both represent viewpoints alien to most Greeks, they’re a far cry from the thuggery-prone, Nazi-mimicking Golden Dawn elected to Parliament four times during the 2009-2018 financial crisis – at one point becoming the country’s third-largest party.

Golden Dawn unraveled after a party organizer murdered a left-wing musician: A massive crackdown saw the party’s leadership arrested and eventually imprisoned for running a criminal organization.

Not that its appeal has completely faded: A former top Golden Dawn official has from prison endorsed the little-known Spartans party, whose logo – an ancient Greek crested helmet – is a far-right icon. Opinion polls now indicate that the nationalist, anti-immigration group could just possibly scrape into Parliament.

Geek Solution is seen as the likeliest of the fringe right to win representation, however. It’s headed by Kyriakos Velopoulos, 57, known for broadcasts on regional Greek TV stations on which he advertises books on historical and religious themes and alternative therapies.

The party advocates stopping asylum-seekers at the border and forcibly returning them to Turkey, while dumping those who slip the net in facilities on uninhabited islets.

Greek Orthodox Christianity is the dominant theme for Niki, whose website says it wants “to unite all Greeks who nourish patriotic and Orthodox beliefs.” Formed in 2019, the party is led by state primary school teacher and religious teacher Dimitrios Natsios, 58.

It has enjoyed some backing among monks on Mount Athos, a northern Greek autonomous monastic community – where women have been banned for the past thousand years – that’s revered in the Orthodox Christian world, in which Russia is a major player. Greece’s Church leadership has unequivocally rejected any involvement in politics.

Niki’s power base is in northern Greece, where many also admire its rejection of the 2018 agreement that settled a decades-old dispute over historic identity with neighboring North Macedonia.

During campaigning in the north, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged voters to resist siren calls from the far right.

“Many extreme voices in Parliament … could lead to a democratic cacophony,” he said.

Giorgos Floridis, a former socialist PASOK cabinet minister from the town of Kilkis in northern Greece – a Niki stronghold – told the Associated Press that Niki is rooted in pandemic-era antivaccination movements.

“Their main supporters are some monasteries, including some on Mount Athos, which hold clearly pro-Russian views,” Floridis said. “Russia sees this party in a positive light because essentially it conveys its own views.”

But Niki’s leading candidate for Kilkis, Ilias Theoharakis, a religious teacher and retired police officer, rejected claims of a pro-Russian slant as “a joke.”

“Soon, they’ll say I’m a KGB agent,” he told the AP with a laugh, referring to Russia’s Soviet-era secret police. “And we’re not against vaccinations. We respect each person’s freedom and desire to do what they like.”

Asked whether he’d been vaccinated against Covid-19, he said: “That’s a personal question, but I haven’t.”

The two far-left parties polling just around 3% are splinter groups that left the main opposition SYRIZA party after its surprise 2015 move to accept a new international bailout – months after SYRIZA was elected on promises of ending bailout-linked austerity.

Plefsi Eleftherias, or Course of Freedom, leader Zoe Konstantopoulou was the parliament speaker under SYRIZA, while Yanis Varoufakis, 62, the secretary of European Realistic Disobedience Front or MeRA25, was finance minister during the 2015 standoff with bailout creditors.

Polls indicate that Course of Freedom has the better chance of entering Parliament. Konstantopoulou, a 46-year-old lawyer known for her fondness for marathon sessions when she directed Parliament debates, has pledged “a lively opposition” in the house, if elected.

“We will make their life difficult,” she said. “We won’t give them any peace.”

Source: AP