Greece will hold legislative elections on May 21, under a system of proportional representation used for the first time in 33 years.

A reminder of the election system

Analysts, and the parties themselves, expect a repeat election on July 2, when the process will revert to a pro-majority system. But instead of the previously guaranteed 50-seat bonus, the winning party in a repeat poll would be awarded up to 50 seats depending on its share of the vote, again putting pressure on the coalition process. Under the Greek Constitution, the country has a relatively brief opportunity to conclude power-sharing arrangements: Each of the three first parties are given a limit of three days to conduct negotiations.

Here’s a breakdown of where the parties currently stand based on a tracking opinion poll by the Pulse RC market research company for Skai television (conducted between April 19 and April 23). Comment below is provided by George Arapoglou, the Pulse RC chief executive and John Papageorgiou, founder and head of the Athens Digest.

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With 32 percent of estimated support, New Democracy has a 6.5-point lead ‒ from 5 points three weeks ago ‒ over the left-wing Syriza party which garnered 25.5 percent, from its previous 26 percent. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or Pasok, was at 9.5 percent, also losing 0.5 percent. The utility of smaller parties in any potential coalition talks remains highly uncertain: With the Greek Communist Party at 6 percent, Mera25 at 5 percent, the rightist Hellenic Solution at 4 percent and the far-right Greeks Party polled 3.5 percent. The undecided vote is at 11 percent.

AD: What are the main trends that emerge? And given that New Democracy has recovered two-thirds of losses suffered following the Tempi rail disaster, could the current order of support for the main political parties be reversed?

George Arapoglou: Since the terrible tragedy at Tempi, New Democracy has regained 2.5 of the 3.5 points it lost. The fact that there are no significant fluctuations in support for the other parties leads us to the conclusion that New Democracy to a significant extent is recovering losses that had headed towards a so-called “grey zone” of voters. Based on the available polling data, it would be difficult for the order of the three leading parties to change. What we see in comparison ‒ even with our poll conducted 20 days earlier ‒ is a re-coalescence of New Democracy and a slight rise in support for the smaller parties.

The two key scenarios in next parliament

Pulse RC presents the following scenarios based on its most recent polling and allocating the undecided vote in accordance with the estimated support for each party. Whether the next parliament has six or seven parties could be key to political developments in the coming months. Under Greek election rules, parties must exceed a 3 percent threshold in terms of vote share to be represented. The far-right Greeks Party was founded by Ilias Kassidiaris, a former MP for extreme right Golden Dawn who is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence. It is likely to beat that threshold. But the Supreme Court will have the final word this week on whether the party will be banned from participating.

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In a potential coalition partnership, ND and Pasok would marginally exceed the 151 MPs needed to form a government. But Syriza would fail to reach that number if it partnered with Pasok and Mera25 party.

In this scenario, it appears that an ND-Pasok government cannot be formed.
A Syriza-Pasok-Mera25 coalition would also fall short of a seat majority.

As mentioned in our first election analysis, a grand coalition, the only safe scenario securing a parliamentary majority, is highly unlikely. Moreover, any involvement of the Communist Party (KKE) in a coalition government is also politically unrealistic.

The undecided vote

In the Pulse RC poll, a specific question was posed to those declared as undecided: “Which voting choice are you closest to?” Again, 37 percent stayed with the “don’t know/no answer” response, while 7 percent chose the “blank ballot/no vote” option. Further, 8 percent declared themselves closer to New Democracy, 14 percent were closer to Syriza, 3 percent to Pasok, 5 percent to KKE, 3 percent to Hellenic Solution, and 8 percent were closer to the Greeks Party, while 15 percent remained undecided.
Adding this data, the projected party support would be: ND: 33.5 percent, Syriza: 28 percent, Pasok: 10.5 percent, KKE: 7 percent, Hellenic Solution: 4.5 percent, Mera25: 5 percent, Greeks Party: 4.5 percent.
With this distribution of votes, in either a six- or seven-party parliament, no majority can be obtained either under an ND-Pasok or a Syriza-Pasok-Mera25 coalition scenario.

George Arapoglou: That is not an absolute proposition, although it produces a tighter scenario for the leading party compared to the one derived from the standard proportional distribution of the undecided. But this scenario also has a significant proportion ‒ 37 percent still uncommitted ‒ that still cannot be assigned to any party. We should also note that it is characterised by a high margin of statistical error. It also does not include what usually (though not always) happens in the final days of the election campaign: The leading party gaining strength. What the responses to this question clearly show us is that there is no tendency for a “one-sided” or strong bolstering effect for any party.

AD: In relation to the previous opinion polls, is it true that the findings point us, in the event of a second ballot, towards a one-party or coalition government headed by New Democracy and not towards partnerships that exclude the winning party? 

George Arapoglou: In a second-election scenario, the possibility of a one-party or coalition government that includes the leading party appears far more likely. If the first party receives a seat bonus (under the new electoral law of enhanced proportional representation which would apply in a possible second election), it becomes even more difficult to form a majority government without its participation. Even after the first elections under a system of simple proportional representation, forming a coalition government without the first party would not be an easy task, though not impossible. Indeed, there are even scenarios in which the first and third parties cannot produce a governing majority.

Final thought

John Papageorgiou: The conclusion drawn following this latest polling data and trends is that, we have known from the outset that we are in all likelihood heading for a second election in July. The latest findings suggest that a third election may not be needed, but it cannot be ruled out. Moreover, the findings next tracking poll must be assessed as it will be the first survey to include the parties that eventually will be allowed to run in the May 21 election. This will not only have an impact on the voting share and political mix of the undecided vote but also the number of parties represented in the next parliament.

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 George Arapoglou
 Managing Director,
Pulse RC

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 John Papageorgiou
 Founder and Head,
Athens Digest