Will the River sweep Greek politics?
As we are entering the last dramatic phase of the municipal election campaign here in Turkey, next door neighbor Greece is at the start of its own problematic bumpy ride towards local elections and Euro-elections set to take place at the end of May. Of course, political dynamics differ. Here a powerful autocratic government is trying to hold to its power while deep cracks have appeared in a society which cannot find its voice through the policies of the traditional mainstream parties.
Greece’s problem is different. There is no powerful party in power. The two main political parties that have dominated politics for almost half a century, the center left party of PASOK and the center right party of New Democracy have now lost much of their power. They lost it through bad governance, mismanagement, nepotism and ultimately corruption. Although they are currently in power together in a weak coalition since the elections of June 2012 they struggle in trying to manage what they call the final phase of the country’s biggest economic crisis in its recent history. They also have a problem convincing the public that that they have left their old habits behind and operate for the common good.
The problem of credibility and trust is mostly faced by the Socialist PASOK, a party that governed Greece for the most part of its post-junta times through impressive majorities, now shrank to single digits. Actually, its downfall was the main reason that pushed the marginal leftist coalition of Syriza (Syriza Unionist Social Front) to achieve an impressive rise to the second place with 27 percent, while ND got most with 30 percent and PASOK scored only 12 percent.
One and a half year later, Greece is heading towards local and European elections. As with Turkey, these are seen as a testing ground for the government but also for the opposition. For some time, polls have been showing that both ND and Syriza run neck and neck keeping similar percentage as they did during the last general elections. People are neither approving the main governing party’s policies nor do they trust Syriza’s solutions for an exit from the crisis. Pasok is shaking badly. An attempt by several former politicians and personalities to give a kiss of life to the center left failed due to infighting and clash of personalities.
It was at this particular moment that “The River” entered the scene. Founded by a popular TV journalist known for his capacity to speak to “the hearts” of his audience through his programs on hot social issues, Stavros Theodorakis announced that he is leaving journalism and entering politics “responding to the call of the people,” against mainstream politics. Initially, he was criticized or even mocked for his vagueness, his lack of “professionalism,” and lack of specific policies. But two weeks later “The River” by entering politics through the easier door of Euro-elections, is becoming a force to be taken seriously.
For the moment, it is reaching double digits in the opinion polls. Political scientists are seeing it as a symptom of a traumatized society rejecting the old political players and searching for new answers. The River is gathering force and is seen already as the third most political movement pushing away the ultra-right Golden Dawn. Its followers come from all parties but mostly from the three biggest ones.
Will “the River” keep on flowing once it presents its political manifesto and its policies? Will it be transformed into a torrent for Greek politics? Nobody knows but nobody can object to the urgent need of the society to search for new political representatives if the old ones do not answer its needs. In that way, there is a similarity with Turkey.