There’s an awful feeling among some Greeks today that what happened last night may have been the worst of all worlds: a weak minority Government that must still enact deeply unpopular cuts and reforms; very little leverage with which to negotiate with the rest of the Eurozone; the prospect of continued economic decline stretching ahead as far as any forecaster can see.
How much better might it have been for the election to have come down decisively one way or the other?
Antonis Samaras will lead the biggest party in parliament, largely thanks to the Greek electoral rules that give a bonus of 50 seats to whoever tops the poll, however narrow the margin of victory. But what is his mandate?
55% of the Greek people voted for parties that were expressly and unequivocally opposed to the bailout. It is pretty hard for Samaras to claim, as he did in his victory speech last night, that the Greek people have voted clearly for Europe and the Euro.
His party, New Democracy, will have 129 seats, well short of the 151 needed to govern. But their old socialist rivals Pasok have 33, and seem to be saying that they’ll allow Samaras to form a Government, although they won’t join it.
It seems they don’t want to be blamed for leaving the country ungovernable again, nor do they want to be part of implementing the 77 or so new cuts and reforms that the bailout deal still demands.
It’s a pretty feeble position to adopt, but when a once great party has been virtually wiped out in two successive elections, it may be too much to expect them to put principle before expediency.
ITV News' Europe Editor reports that the problem is that the government has promised that Europe will 'ease up' on Greece's bailout terms, but may not be able to deliver.
So the next few months are likely to see the new Government cutting another €11bn from the budget, sacking 150,000 public workers and forcing through a whole series of deeply unpopular ‘structural reforms’ to labour laws and working practices.
All the while Syriza and its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras will play the part of responsible opposition, trying their hardest not to say ‘we told you so’, and waiting for the next election (which may not be far away) to do what they so nearly did yesterday.
Europe may have breathed a sigh of relief last night, but it is going to give very little in return. Chancellor Merkel wouldn’t even allow a Government to be formed before telling the Greeks that ever comma and full-stop of the hated ‘memorandum’ is going to be enforced.
She might, under pressure not only from Athens but also from France’s President Hollande, allow the time table to slip a year or two, but will she do anything to drag Greece out of its death spiral? Not a chance.
So how long before we’re back in full ‘Euro-crisis’ mode? Not long, if the markets today are anything to go by. Good news from Greece has already been brushed aside by market fears that Spain is heading rapidly for a full bailout of its own, possibly followed by a Greek-style haircut for private investors.
Is there any sign at all that by the time the Eurozone leaders have met at the G20 today, in Rome on Friday and then in Brussels at a full summit at the end of next week they will have come up with anything at all to match the seriousness of this crisis?
So far, none. Many assume that the consequences of carrying on like this are so serious that something has to change. If only the world were as rational as that.