Scare-mongering dominates Greek electioneering
It was not the way Greeks thought they would spend their Christmas this year. Actually, many had already planned their holidays long ago. Judging from the record number of bookings, many had chosen to spend their Christmas at the popular winter resorts on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The crisis is over, claimed the tour operators.
The reason why some Greeks were feeling somewhat less pessimistic this Christmas was based on the rhetoric of the Antonis Samaras government over the last three months. “We are about to turn the final corner,” government politicians have been telling them. “We are coming out of the tunnel; we have achieved our financial targets; we do not need financial help from our creditors [the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF].”
There were some positive signs, too. Some serious foreign investors were heading to Greece and certainly tourism had another record year. There was even an increase of 1.7 percent in employment, the highest among the 28 EU members, during the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period last year.
So, some had started to think that maybe the road of fully abiding by the tough reform program imposed by the creditors, albeit with extreme sacrifices on the part of the people, may have been the right one. And not the alternative, suggested by the leftist opposition of Syriza that claims the economy really needs good management with priority given to the lower income, to curbing corruption and political nepotism and caring for the many as opposed to a few.
But the slight change of mood was more psychological rather than based on reality, as for the majority of citizens, the last five years meant a dramatic decrease of their income, living standards, health care, social services, job security, education and everything else that constitutes a decent life.
The polls were not in favor of the government and for the last few months were consistently showing Syriza ahead. At the same time they were showing an increase in the polarization of the society and a deep mistrust to the political establishment. Analysts were warning that the time until the election of the new president of the republic in February could have made things worse. Markets started to worry and so did the creditors. After intense discussions between the government and the representatives of the creditors, it was decided to give Greece a two months’ “technical” extension for applying the remaining set of measures in order to secure financial support after the expiry of the bailout agreement at the end of the year.
It was at that moment that the Greek prime minister took the high-risk decision to call an earlier presidential election proposing as a candidate a former vice president of his New Democracy conservative party. It was announced that the voting procedure, consisting of three sessions of the Parliament, is starting this Dec. 17, continuing on the 23rd and finishing on 29th. Some 180 votes are needed from a 300-strong Parliament in order to elect the new president. If not, the country goes to general elections. His reason was to end the political uncertainty which eroded the trust of the markets to the Greek economy and lead the country to elections in 2016. Both Samaras and his coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos blame Syriza for fueling a climate of political uncertainty hoping to benefit from it. Syriza claims that it is one step away from becoming the next government of the country.
The government’s small majority and a high number of independent deputies – 25 – adds to the volatile political atmosphere, as it shows that the vote of the independents may decide in the end the future of the government.
“Everything hangs by a thread, which is the will of the people,” said Venizelos, “If that is cut off, the country may be led to absolute catastrophe”.
There is no doubt that for their own reasons, politicians often resort to the method of scaring the society. This is what is happening at the moment in Greece. All sides are claiming good intentions with the best solutions. An exciting race is about to begin.