Political left in Greece tries revival through popular vote

Political left in Greece tries revival through popular vote

Most international media outlets hardly picked it up as a story; and the few that did, devoted just a few lines to it.

The Greek Socialists, who dominated political life in Greece after the return of the country to democratic rule in 1974, think that now it is their big chance to resurrect their movement, the once mighty Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) founded by the charismatic leader Andreas Papandreou.

For almost three decades, PASOK managed to retain a substantial popular support of 40-45 percent in the general elections, with its last victory in 2009. But George Papandreou’s majority government enjoying the support of 43.9 percent of the voters faltered badly under the impact of the world economic crisis on a hugely indebted Greece. The last PASOK government had to leave the political stage after less than a year in office. The party suffered massive losses during subsequent elections, dropping as low as 4.7 percent after being blamed for Greece’s financial collapse.

After the collapse of PASOK, other newly founded smaller parties filled the vacuum to its left and its right. And further to the left, the Coalition of the Left under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras managed to woo many disappointed socialist votes and rise to power.

Since the onslaught of the “Greek crisis,” the picture of the Greek Socialists has been a picture or fragmentation, introversion and lack of ideological unity. Their biggest challenge: To win back the trust of the Greeks who once supported them and to show them that they have better solutions for managing the country than the leftist Syriza-led government.

So far, the story may sound like any other story for the diminishing power of Socialist parties as witnessed already in many other European countries since the recent world economic crisis. And hence, it would not merit special attention.

But what perhaps justifies today’s article, is the method the Greek Socialists of PASOK and two more small parties chose to resurrect themselves. It may end up in failure, or it may prove to be a new democratic process for a more representational expression of people’s will.

All three decided to join forces - although each was keeping its party identity and structure - and to launch an unusual electoral process aiming to elect a new overall leader. The vote is to take place in two rounds. In the first round, anybody could put himself up as a candidate and any citizen eligible to vote can vote, provided that they pay the 3 euro fee! If no candidate wins the overall majority-50 percent+1 vote, there is to be a second round. There is only one ballot paper with the names of all nine candidates, and the voters are supposed to pick one of them.

Among the candidates are the leader of PASOK, Fofi Gennimatas, and the leader of the small party of Potami, Stavros Theodorakis, as well as the current mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis. Hundreds of polling stations have been set up all over Greece, even abroad in Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S.

Those who came up with this original idea say that the success of the voting process depends on the number of participants. According to most observers, the leader of PASOK is expected to win, but most likely a second round will be needed next week between the two most voted candidates. If there is a second round, only whoever voted in the first round can vote in the second.

Many have seen this attempt by the socialists/center-left in Greece to recover their losses from a decade ago, as an ingenious plan to rejuvenate the party. But others point out at the ideological and procedural blurriness of the project.

The Greek socialists/center leftists, though, cannot afford any confusion. Under whatever format they chose to re-launch themselves, they will have to create an image of unity and consensus-something historically proven to be quite difficult, and will have to hurry up. Because early elections next year are not unlikely, as the Tsipras government may not wait until they are due in 2019.

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