6 September 2015 — Why the hell are the Greeks having another election?
For the benefit of the non-Greek readers of this blog, I thought I would offer a summary of what the hell exactly happened and Greece is having another election on September 20. Also, this is a good opportunity to summarise what is at stake and what are the consequences of the performance of various parties.
Tsipras, the outgoing PM, lost effectively half his party when he signed on to the new Bailout agreed in July. After staging the ridiculous and deceiving Greferendum, he immediately took the decision to reach a deal with the creditors (on their terms). Tsipras knew that his party, in large numbers, perhaps in the majority, would not back this decision. Of course they wouldn’t. Syriza is a protest party built on opposition to the MoUs/Bailouts. Tsipras himself mobilised the party to support the prideful OXI in the referendum. Syriza fought (badly) a battle with the creditors for 7 months. Why would they accept a capitulation?
When the split became official with the departing Lafazanis promising to start a new party (now called Laiki Enotita – Popular Unity), Tsipras lost his parliamentary majority. His far right allies ANEL fared better, but even with their support Tsipras had trouble managing even 120 votes in the 300 seat Parliament.
His options were to govern with the support of the opposition (Nea Dimokratia -ND for short, PASOK and Potami) or to call an election.
Tsipras chose an election to resolve his internal party problems, not caring in the slightest what a new election will cost the country.
Tsipras now claims that a renewed mandate (again) will allow him to ‘manage’ the dreadful deal he achieved after 7 months of failed negotiations, led by Prof. Varoufakis. But if the aim is to ‘manage’ the hated Bailout deal, why not do it in the current parliament with the support with the opposition?
Polls consistently show high public support for a unity government.
Tsipras is an opportunist and a populist. Command of his internal domain is more important than managing the bailout or stabilising the country. This is why he chose an election. Tsipras, having lost his command of the anti-austerity/anti-MoU message, is now asking Greeks to vote for him because he is ‘new’ and because he is ‘better’ than everyone else, and leftier than the mainstream parties.
While this is obviously nonsense, as I explained in other posts, what are the alternatives for Greek voters?
The main contender is ND. As the electoral system offers a bonus to the first party in the election, even a very small lead offers the first party an extra 50 seats. This allows then the first party to form a coalition government with other willing partners. If Syriza wins, Mr Tsipras says that he will work with ANEL. As ANEL are unlikely to enter Parliament again (they are polling below the 3% threshold), Tsipras could deal with PASOK or even Potami. If those parties do not gain enough seats to supplement Syriza’s, then no-one knows what will happen. As Mr Tsipras is so fond of renewed mandates, I am guessing another election may be in the cards.
ND offers a more varied menu of choices. They promise to deal with anyone (Golden Dawn apart of course) who is willing to support a MoU/Bailout friendly Pro-EU/Euro government. Meimarakis has said he will even join with Tsipras in a grand coalition if that is needed.
Meimarakis looks folksy, but he is an unsavoury character. He comes from the hard core establishment right in Greece, the violent right. Along with his contemporaries (the disgraced Voulgarakis for instance) he committed a lot of sins over the years. He is not a centre-right figure. He appears less nationalist and less right-wing than Samaras, but a government under him will not be friendlier. Meimarakis represents a traditional right straight out of the 1970s.
Nonetheless, if the aim is to secure Greece’s position in the Euro and to implement the terms of the new Bailout, ND is the best bet at the moment.
What about the other smaller parties? Potami is the most interesting prospect (for centrist voters). It is a new party, that claims to be a modern party, rejecting the clientism and sordid practices of the left and the right. There are problems though, which explain the party’s falling support. Potami is very much a leader defined party, with Theodorakis calling the shots. Its anti-establishment claims are tainted by support from certain rich ‘oligarchs’. Also a message of ‘modernisation’ is lacking focus. To make matters worse for Potami, the current electoral system (dreamt up by the current President, Pavlopoulos, by the way) puts smaller parties under pressure. Voting Potami instead of ND may well make Mr Tsipras the commanding figure on September 21st, something he does not deserve.
What about PASOK? The old dominant socialist party is not a serious contender anymore. The fact that Papandreou is not running with his vehicle KIDISO means that the almost 2% he got in January will probably repatriate to PASOK, ending any questions as to them making the 3% Parliamentary entry threshold. Beyond this, they are unlikely to get more than a handful of MPs, so they could only support a majority with the combination of a strong first party, or multiple partners.
The conclusion to this presentation? If this contest was held to clear up Greece’s stance towards the Euro, and coalitions of forces run against each other, presenting different visions for the future of the country, within and without the Euro, then an election would be useful. As it stands, this election is almost content free, run on a personality basis. It helps no-one, and certainly will not help Mr Tsipras resolve his internal party problems if he comes second.
The best result of this election for the future of Greece will be for Mr Tsipras to come second.