ATHENS, Greece – The specter of Neo-Nazism is no longer haunting Greece. It looks like it is here to stay.
The extreme right, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party, which has Nazi roots, appears headed for a third-place finish in Sunday's election. Its showing comes despite the fact that the party's leader and most of its lawmakers are behind bars, facing charges of participating in a "criminal organization" accused of murders, brutal attacks on migrants and others, extortion and arson.
With more than 90 percent of the voting precincts reporting, Golden Dawn was receiving 6.3 percent of the vote, narrowly leading the centrist Potami ("River") with 6.04 percent. Both parties exceeded the 3 percent minimum required to gain seats in the 300-member parliament — with each forecast to win 17 seats.
Its share of the vote doesn't match the 9.39 percent it received in last June's European Parliament election in which Golden Dawn also finished third. It also trails the 6.92 percent won in the previous national election, in June 2012.
But considering the exposure of a series of crimes allegedly committed by its members, including the Sept. 2013 murder of a leftist rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, the result obtained Sunday may be even more significant. This is no longer merely an angry protest vote, a one-off voters' tiff with "corrupt politicians." This is an established vote and a hardened electorate.
"They can no longer plead ignorance. They have dipped their hands in blood," Communist lawmaker Liana Kanelli commented on Sunday's result.
Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mihaloliakos and his top lieutenants were not free to campaign ahead of the election, since they were behind bars. They were free to stand as candidates because they have not yet gone to trial. Some of them, including Mihaloliakos, may soon be set free when their 18-month maximum pre-trial detention limit is reached.
In a taped statement Sunday, Mihaloliakos celebrated his party's performance.
"We achieved this great victory despite the fact that we could not be guaranteed an equal and so-called democratic election as the regime likes to call it, shunned by all (media), facing mudslinging and slander from all sides ... having to campaign through a payphone. We have a fresh mandate ... everyone fought to keep Golden Dawn away and they lost. Golden Dawn won," Mihalioliakos said in his taped message.
In a further twist, if the radical left Syriza party, the winner of the election, fails to achieve an outright majority, a prospect still possible early Monday, it might fail to form a government and return the mandate, given to it by the President of the Republic. In that case, the second party takes up the mandate and, if it fails in turn, the third party does. The prospect of a handcuffed Mihaloliakos, escorted by police to meet the Greek president to be asked to try to form a government, sends jitters throughout the political class. And, if it gets the chance, Golden Dawn is certain to exploit the occasion for maximum effect to ridicule the democracy they despise and whose benefits they are trying to exploit.