The Greek Election of 6 May – strategic orientations and paradoxes

The Greek Election of 6 May – strategic orientations and paradoxes

As the Greeks prepare to go to the polls on Sunday May 6, to decide on which political forces will lead the country in this difficult period of stunted growth, high unemployment, income loss and a straightjacket from international creditors demanding reforms, questions arise as to why these elections are actually taking place. The answer is simple.

The centre right New Democracy party (ND) feared that its lead, as reflected in all opinion surveys, might dissipate should the poll be delayed. It was supported in the decision by the parties of the Left opposed to reform, as well as a number of vested interests that have long been dependent on their “give and take” with the state and its shrinking coffers. 

Nevertheless, winning on Sunday does not imply either an outright victory or the ability to govern. In fact, ND and PASOK (the two main political parties) may or may not be able to jointly garner 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. In contrast, in the 2009 national elections their joint vote tally was over 77 percent.

Their decline mirrors the political crisis the country is undergoing in tandem with the economic crisis. It also reflects the responsibility both ND and PASOK bear for mismanaging the country’s affairs, in part because of their inability to undergo a change of skin. Unrelated to their ideological differences, both parties have diachronically pursued policies of clientelism and patronage, thereby contributing to the current political and financial bust up. 

The current caretaker government - composed of leading figures from both ND and PASOK - is tasked with implementing reforms and avoiding a default, and could technically have remained in office until September 2013. Yet it was forced to call for elections which one political commentator has termed as “untimely and premature”. The stakes are so high that Loukas Papademos, the outgoing Prime Minister, recently stressed that the strategic orientation of Greece is at play, with many of the new emergent political forces having an anti-EU, anti-Euro, anti-anything or anyone-not-Greek rhetoric. 

Herein enters the democracy paradox. While in all elections, the number of parties vying for one’s vote far exceeds those actually meeting the 3 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament, in these elections the very real possibility of a legislature with 8-10 parties could lead to an unstable ND-PASOK coalition government, no government at all, or even a government made up of a number of parties opposed to the European project Greece is signed up to. In other words, both PASOK and ND have lost their appeal as mass parties acting as ideological umbrellas for disparate political trends or orientations. As a result, disenchanted voters prefer to vote for smaller protest parties (many of which are new) that now have a real chance of making it to Parliament. 

The paradox is that while nothing could be more democratic than this, it could also lead to greater instability, as for the first time an openly pro-fascist party could well be seated in the next session of Parliament, together with other naysayers threatening to undo the country’s western orientation, while also sharing the floor with representatives of liberal parties that have a clear pro-reform, pro-Europe orientation. 

The threat of populism aside, the inability to reform is an even greater menace. Whatever dire scenario becomes a reality on Sunday night, the only alternative for Greek voters and their representatives is to find a way to put a stop to the country’s slide toward “banana republic” status and contribute to its renaissance. In order for this to occur, Greeks have first to cast their ballots on Sunday with a mind on the day after.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou is director of the Center for International and European Studies at Kadir Has University