Greece will hold legislative elections on May 21, under a system of proportional representation used for the first time in 33 years. The switch poses a major challenge for conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy as well as for his political opponents to seek coalition options in a parliament that could be represented by as many as seven parties. 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. These are the second national elections being held since Greece’s exit from fiscal adjustment programmes and the first since the end of the enhanced surveillance process.
Here’s a breakdown of where the parties currently stand based on a tracking opinion poll from the Pulse RC market research company for Skai TV (conducted between March 30 and April 3). 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 31 percent of estimated support, New Democracy has a 5-point lead over the left-wing Syriza party led by former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, regaining some of the public backing lost in the wake of the February 28 Tempi rail disaster. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or Pasok, garnered 10 percent, making it the likely coalition partner if needed. The utility of smaller parties in any potential coalition talks remains highly uncertain: with the Greek Communist Party at 6 percent, the rightist Greek Solution and Yanis Varoufakis’ Mera25 following at 4 percent. Still unclear whether it will be banned from participating, the far-right Greeks Party polled 3.5 percent.

Could the current order of support for the main political parties be reversed?

George Arapoglou: Although nothing can be ruled out for certain, this seems difficult. The inability of the main opposition to gain any significant portion of support lost by the ruling party, the high margin of an expectation of victory for New Democracy, and the prime minister’s appeal ‒ higher than that of his own party ‒ leave little room for an upset.

The undecided vote

George Arapoglou: “Currently, the so-called grey zone in the electorate has certain distinguishing characteristics compared to those that were observed in recent years and that has been reinforced by the tragedy at Tempi. It would seem appropriate to let some more time pass and wait for the next round of polls to allow for more accurate estimates.”

A grand coalition?

An outside observer might wonder why a grand coalition, including the two main parties, is not the prevailing scenario. One answer is that Greece has no tradition of coalition governments. But a more significant factor is the country’s political environment, which remains too toxic to allow a broad national consensus. Despite progress made since the tumultuous year of 2015, conditions do not exist for a major cross-party bargain. Such option should be considered if no other options were available.
Further, with more public administration reforms pending in the short term, a grand coalition could hand the opposition to radical right or left-wing political parties. That would be a serious political setback and a potential threat to the country’s orderly governance.

The two basic scenarios

Pulse RC presents the following scenarios based on its most recent polling, allocating the undecided vote in proportion with 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 in parliament.
The far-right Greeks Party is likely to beat that threshold but parliament has voted for an amendment to block its participation on the grounds that its founder, a former MP for extreme right Golden Dawn, is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence. The Supreme Court will have the final word.

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In this  scenario, six political parties are represented in parliament with no outright winner, but a coalition option for New Democracy (115 seats) which could partner with Pasok (37 seats) to scrape past the minimum 151 seats needed to form a government. Opposition leader Tsipras would struggle to form a multiple-party alternative.

The Supreme Court has still to rule on whether a parliamentary amendment to exclude the far-right Greeks Party will be upheld. A seven-party scenario in parliament makes coalition calculations much more complicated, also appearing to rule out a New Democracy-Pasok option.

George Arapoglou: Currently, three parties are marginally above the three percent threshold required to enter parliament. Combined with the debate about whether one of those parties will be allowed to participate in the elections following a recent legislative initiative in parliament, any assessment at this point would be risky. The result will, however, affect the various coalition options after the next elections, as well as the chances of outright victory in a repeat election under an enhanced representation system.

John Papageorgiou: The seven-party scenario leaves very little room for any coalition arrangement, regardless of the split in the undecided vote. And a six-party scenario could, at best, yield a fragile majority. Options are weakened further by the difficulty of including Mera25 and the likely refusal of the Communist Party to back any coalition proposal. Power-sharing would also likely open up political divisions within Pasok. And that leaves the more cynical question: Why should a victorious New Democracy seek a coalition when it can wait a few weeks to reap an election bonus and score a potential outright win or seek for a coalition having secured more MPs seats?

Final thought

John Papageorgiou: Since a repeat election remains our baseline scenario, the question is what will happen then? Those developments clearly will be affected by the results on May 21. Though still considerably uncertain, it could be argued if New Democracy gain more than 35 percent of the vote in May and are at least four points clear of Syriza, there is a clear path to outright victory in July. But with a showing below 32 percent and a lead under 3 points, then an ND-Pasok coalition after a second election becomes more likely.

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Managing Director,
Pulse RC


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Founder and Head,
Athens Digest