Provided it is verified, the formation of a SYRIZA - Independent Greeks coalition is probably the most peculiar and worrying outcome of these elections.
It is a surprising turn of events. While a comfortable win by SYRIZA was repeatedly predicted in the polls, until the night of the election it was not even certain that the Independent Greeks party would even enter parliament. From an almost has-been, Panos Kammenos has now been elevated to a likely key cabinet member within the space of 48 hours.
Furthermore, Tsipras and Panos Kammenos make for highly unusual bed-fellows. The partnership between the two raises serious questions over the likely stability of the next government.
Effectively the two parties are only united in their hatred for the Memorandum. On a slew of other issues including immigration, the separation of church and state, policing and gay rights, to name just a few, they are miles apart. How long the anti-memorandum glue can keep them together is anyone’s guess.
And it should be noted that far from a stabilizing force, Panos Kammenos is anything but – an unpredictable time-bomb of a politician with a penchant for conspiracy theories and bombast over anything approaching reasoned policy making.
Who is Panos Kammenos?
Panos Kammenos was first elected with New Democracy in 1993 and has been in parliament ever since, serving as a Deputy Minister of Maritime affairs in the government of Kostas Karamanlis in 2007.
In 2011, Kammenos broke with New Democracy when he refused to provide a vote of confidence for the caretaker government of Lucas Papademos. In February of 2012, he and 20 MPs were struck from the party when they voted against measures implemented as part of Greece’s Memorandum program.
Kammenos immediately formed the Independent Greeks party and secured 10.6% of the vote in the elections in May 2012 and 7.5% in the second election in June.
Kammenos presents himself as a defender of Greece sovereignty from a range of foes, real and imaginary, hell bent on destroying the country.
Effectively Kammenos has developed a knack for exploiting the penchant for conspiracy theories that exists in a significant segment of Greek society. Even when his more outrageous statements are proven baseless, his supporters often merely see their debunking as further evidence of intricate plots and control of the media by shadowy forces.
It is no accident that the party and its supporters are referred to as the ‘sprayed’ (psekasmenoi) related to the conspiracy that the government is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances. Kammenos himself in the past has refused to rule this possibility out.
As such Kammenos has often become embroiled in controversies over explosive allegations that he has made and frequently been forced to retract. Yet he still retains a certain level of popularity.
In one of the most high-profile cases, in 2011 Kammenos accused George Papandreou’s brother, Andreas, of profiting from Credit Default Swaps at the expense of the country. Kammenos implied that he had acted on information leaked to him by the then Prime Minister in an elaborate plot.
In 2013, Kammenos was convicted by a Greek court of defamation over the allegations and ordered to pay 30,000 euros to Andreas Papandreou Jr. He was also forbidden for mentioning Andreas Papandreou’s name.
In the past Kammenos has also alleged in a book that the terror group November 17 was secretly supported by high ranking politicians of PASOK. That was shown to be false when the members of the group were ultimately arrested and no link between them and any political figures were found.
Similarly Kammenos has frequently implied that Greece’s entire debt crisis and the subsequent Memorandum program were engineered in a grand scheme by shadowy forces in order to subjugate Greece and steal its resource wealth. While he has offered little by way of evidence for this position, many of his supporters do not require any to be convinced of its truth.
More recently he alleged together with one of his MPs that there was a plot to bribe 20 or so MPs by supporters of the government in order to secure the election of a new head of state and avoid elections. Kammenos and the MP claimed to have irrefutable video evidence backing up their claim, but ultimately it was less than convincing. While a court eventually threw out the allegations as baseless, Kammenos’s popularity among his supporters appears to have remained intact.
Within the world of Greek conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism is rarely far away, with Jews often fingered as the ultimate puppet-masters. And only a few weeks ago, Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks. Once again the allegations were utterly false, but Kammenos’s popularity remained unbowed.
So this is the man that Alexis Tsipras appears to have decided to partner with. One can only hope that he is kept as far away as possible from any position where he can do real damage and particularly with regards to Greece’s fragile international reputation.
Presumably Alexis Tsipras chose to ally himself with Kammenos in the hopes that a strongly anti-memorandum government would be better placed to exact concessions from Greece’s lenders.
But it will hardly help Alexis Tsipras’s case for a renegotiation over the debt if his key ally in government is spreading outrageous allegations like confetti or accusing Angela Merkel or Wolfgang Schauble of serving an evil cabal secretly directing world affairs to the detriment of the Greeks.
Tsipras even got an early indication of the danger of partnering with some of the loonier forces in Greek politics from Rachel Makri, the former MP with the Independent Greeks, who joined SYRIZA going into these elections (with the personal approvaql of Tsipras himself). Ms Makri caused a headache for her new party only days later when she maintained that Greece had the right to ‘print’ 100 billion euros through the ELA mechanism, a claim that was rightly ridiculed throughout much of the Greek press. That gaffe may prove to be peanuts in the face of what Kammenos is capable of.
In short with allies like these, Alexis Tsipras will have his work cut out for him to convince Greece’s European partners that Greece is a serious country with a serious plan.
Because it is hard to look serious when one is surrounded by clowns.