Greek polling points to coalition as voters reject system…

Greek polling data suggest neither Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy nor the main opposition Syriza party will win an outright majority in next month’s election, meaning coalition negotiations or even a repeat vote will be needed.

Pollster Elias Nikolakopoulos said current projections of voting intentions for the Jan. 25 elections show the lower limit for securing at least 151 seats in the country’s 300-seat chamber is about 38 percent. Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza led New Democracy by 28 percent to 25 percent in a survey by Marc published on Alpha TV’s website this week.

“I don’t think that any party will manage to get a parliamentary majority,” Nikolakopoulos, a professor of politics and electoral sociology at the University of Athens, said in a phone interview. “But if the winner gets more than 30 percent, as will probably happen, it will likely reach 140 to 145 seats.”

Under the Greek electoral system, the winning party gets 50 bonus seats in the country’s unicameral chamber, and the remaining 250 seats are distributed proportionally among all parties that surpass the 3 percent threshold. A government can only take office after a confidence vote requiring the support of at least 151 lawmakers.

If smaller parties, including Independent Greeks, or a potential breakaway fraction from the socialist Pasok party fail to win seats, the threshold to secure an outright majority falls to about 36.5 percent, according to Nikolakopoulos. Without that level of support, Syriza or New Democracy will need the backing of a smaller party or of independent lawmakers to form a government.

What’s at Stake

A constitutional impasse over the process of installing a new ceremonial head of state forced Europe’s most indebted state into snap elections almost 18 months before Samaras’s term was due to end. President Karolos Papoulias formally dissolved parliament today, according to Nerit TV images showing his decree being posted at the door of the legislature.

At stake in next month’s ballot is the international lifeline that has kept Greece afloat since 2010, since Syriza vows to abandon the reforms Samaras has pursued in return for bailout aid. It also aims to renegotiate Greek debt held by euro-area member states and the European Central Bank.

Samaras can point to successes, having presided over Greece’s emergence from recession after six years and return to a budget surplus. In the process, the austerity imposed has helped wipe out more than 25 percent of Greek gross domestic product and tripled the unemployment rate, while the overhaul of the labor market has led to a steep fall in wages and household income.

Political Rejection

Polling data show that rejection of the established political order is the most decisive factor shaping electoral behavior, posing a problem for New Democracy, according to Nikolakopoulos. It’s a phenomenon witnessed across income strata, helping feed support for To Potami, a party founded this year, he said.

For higher income earners, fear of an exit from the euro system is also decisive, while opposition to austerity policies and the bailout agreement is more often cited by those whose incomes have been hit by the crisis.

“These will be the most social-class-determined elections we’ve seen so far in Greece,” Nikolakopoulos said. “Class will be an even more decisive factor than in June 2012, which was the most class-based polarized ballot since the fall of the military junta in 1974.”

The first of Greece’s two general elections in 2012, in May that year, offers some insight into the possible coalition wrangling ahead.

Presidential Mandate

Under Greece’s constitution, in the absence of an election majority for either main party, the president hands the mandate to the leader of the party with most votes to try and form a coalition within three days. Failure to do so means the mandate passes to the second and then the third-placed party, each of which has three days to attempt to find governing allies.

If, as happened in 2012, each party fails to put together a government, all parties meet with the president to try and form a unity government. If that still fails, as in 2012, new elections are held within a month.

Greece’s electoral landscape was fragmented that year as two consecutive ballots in six weeks destroyed the dominance of New Democracy and Pasok, which between them have governed the country continuously since 1974, and propelled Syriza to become the country’s No. 2 political force.

Survey trends currently indicate a narrowing lead for Syriza, though not a reversal of the projected result, according to Nikolakopoulos. “But there’s still three weeks of electoral campaign to go,” he said.