Are Greeks also talking about a presidential system?

Are Greeks also talking about a presidential system?

“Is your man there going to become the president?” asked the voice on the other end of the line. The directness of the question took me by surprise. I had not spoken to my friend for months, perhaps since June just after the latest general elections when he was busy assessing the impact of the economic crisis on the political balances in Greece.

Actually his question about the intentions of the Turkish prime minister was more rhetoric than real as he quickly moved to his main comment: “Here, there are preparations to change the system into a presidential system giving increased powers to the president.”

That would be a huge change since a discussion about the powers of the president of the Greek Republic had been regulated – and reduced – since 1986 following a huge clash between then-President Constantine Karamanlis and the PASOK government that led to Karamanlis’ dramatic resignation. So, I could not really believe my friend for his words, but on the other hand, these are unpredictable times for Greece both regarding its future position in Europe and its domestic political and social dynamics. And while nothing indicates at the moment that the presidential issue is likely to be put on the political agenda again, I discovered that in a survey back in 2007, almost 50 percent (46.8 percent of respondents) wanted a return to the presidential system as their trust in the Greek political parties had fallen dramatically.

Is this a similar situation, I wonder? The present picture shows a split and confusion, according to opinion polls. The opposition leftist party SYRIZA is ahead (23.1 percent), but a high percentage (42.5 percent) wants the coalition government under the center-right party of New Democracy to lead the country through the present crisis. At the bottom of this is, of course, the question of who is to take the country out of this terrible crisis and how.

Last week, the Greek Parliament, after an acrimonious debate approved, a budget for 2013 that involves 9.4 billion euros of cuts in spending, mainly in salaries and pensions. A few days before that, the Greek Parliament had agreed to another tough austerity package. All that was expected by Greece’s creditors in order for them to continue helping Greece to deal with its crisis.

Tomorrow is an important day both for the economic recovery of the country and for the political sustainability of the Samaras government. It is expected that in tomorrow’s Eurogroup meeting, some kind of agreement will be reached regarding the second tranche of the 130 billion-euro bailout for Greece. Although tomorrow’s meeting is taking place against a widening disagreement between the EU and IMF on how to deal with the Greek crisis, Samaras appears positive that he may win over the skeptics on the sustainability of the program for Greece.

If an agreement is reached in the Eurogroup, then a government reshuffle will be on its way, commentators agree. A reshuffle which would replace the “respected non-political” government members with more active political figures. Even the leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos, is likely to get the post of deputy prime minister in spite of his party’s intense infighting and the dramatic fall in its popularity.

The Samaras government needs to do all that for several reasons. The most important is that they will have to deal with an even more desperate society once the new austerity package is applied next month. The second is that the political map of the country may change dramatically. New parties and new political initiatives are expected to emerge soon which may overturn the present political balances. And these aim to cover the vacuum left by PASOK in the center left but may develop also to the right of New Democracy.

Back to the conversation with my clever friend in Athens, who had something to say about this, too: “Yes, new parties are coming up, but parties will not matter as before.” I must say that I didn’t believe him, but imagine if he is right.