Election brawling versus democracy in Greece

Election brawling versus democracy in Greece

“They killed the horses! There are no animals in the Caracas Zoo; they even killed the lions to eat them! The people are starving! Maduro is a dictator and you are supporters of dictators!”

The lady who was shouting at the top of her voice was a deputy of the Greek New Democracy Party constantly talking over her fellow deputy from the governing leftist party of Syriza who was struggling to say that Nicholas Maduro was an elected leader. It was a chaotic morning TV show where the subject was supposed to be the coming European, local and mayoral elections in Greece.

These days no public discussion in Greece ends well; whatever the initial theme and whatever the intentions of the programmers, political discussions get off track very quickly and end up in enraged exchanges breaking all barriers of professional conduct. Everybody is anxious, nervous and in a hurry to put their point across.

This year, on May 1, the political clock started ticking: On May 26 Greeks will vote for local and regional government, but they will also elect 21 members allocated to Greece in the European Parliament.

This triple electoral hurdle is causing extreme anxiety to all political parties. These elections are seen as a prelude, a foretaste of the general elections to take place any time until October this year.

As of last August, Greece is out of a terrible period of bail-out agreements but remains under monitoring from its former creditors. The country still runs an enormous debt and has to run high surpluses, agreed by Brussels. Whoever comes to power this year will still have to stay in the same basic framework for keeping the country afloat. 

An unexpected winner of the 2015 elections, the leftist Syriza will now have to try hard to remain in power. It has to convince the voters that it had no other choice but to backtrack on its original promises and managed to get the country out of the bailout noose. So far it trails back in all opinion polls having not succeeded to regain its original popularity. Its biggest asset is the charismatic Alexis Tsipras, but it may not be enough this time.

The main opposition center-right party of New Democracy (ND) under a new leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is ahead in polls and its members make no effort to hide their over-excitement, anger and conviction that Syriza is on the way out. They see the coming European Parliament elections as a foregone victory as they predict that they will win most of the 21 Greek MEPs. “On May 26 we vote, on May 27 they go,” they say.

Between ND and Syriza there is an array of small parties from the centenarian Communist Party to the Socialists of PASOK, the two centrist parties and the ultra-right parties of Golden Dawn and the Greek Solution. Few are expected to pass the election threshold of 3 percent in the general elections.

In the latest Poll of Polls for European Elections, the Party of New Democracy is well ahead of Syriza (35.5 percent to 25 percent) followed by PASOK and Golden Dawn both with 8.5 percent, but with 11.5 percent of undecided voters.

New Democracy counts a lot on the results of the European Parliament election, but analysts think that a safer test for the voters’ behavior would be their vote for local government.  They predict high participation in the local elections. It has been more than five years since people last cast their vote. And in mayoral and regional elections, voters are keener to express their approval or disapproval for candidates and consequently for the parties that support them.

Everybody agrees that the elections at the end of May will be crucial. Depending on the results, Tsipras will decide whether to go immediately for general elections if the momentum is in his favor or delay the process until October.

Nobody fails to observe a dangerously rising level of polarization in society and among politicians. As the stakes are high, the rules of fair play are ignored. In their place politicians and parties with few exceptions- have been openly using the modern tools of politics: Fake news, character assassinations, real or imaginary scandals, constructed reality, exaggerated tension and rage, anything, in short, that may win points against their opponent. Truth is the victim, like the Caracas Lions.

The country is running “without handbrake” wrote a prominent Kathimerini newspaper columnist.

The question is whether such tactics affect the Greek voters at the end of the month or in the general elections later on this year? Or will their instinct to preserve their democracy prevail?

Ariana Ferentinou,