19 June 2012

Elections in Sun land

Unless you have lived under a stone for the last five years, you would know that there were elections in Greece to vote a new Parliament in. And you might know that it was the second time in a month, due to the inability of the politicians to work together for the good of the nation to form a new government.

This second round meant that the winner would be nearly automatically ensured to be able to get a majority or at least to build a coalition with only one other party. Indeed, the winner gets a bonus of 50 seats in the Assembly of 300 representatives, usually enough to make the difference. Here are the final results in English.

In this case, and while the winner, conservative Nea Democratia (ND), did clinch a relative majority, even these 50 seats were not enough and it will have to build a coalition (129 seats < 151). Nothing too bad, mind you, as the only other party which clearly announced it could work with ND was "socialist" PASOK who got enough seats to complete a solid majority (33 seats + 129 = 162 > 151). The self declared opposition party, SYRIZA, a coalition of no-communists, socialists and anarchy-unionists, got 71 seats. But the legitimacy of such a majority is extremely low. If one looks at the percentage of expressed votes, the 162 seats represent in fact 41.94% of the voices. SYRIZA would have an easy claim that, allied with parties opposed to the ND and PASOK policy, they represent more of the people. Legitimacy is a tricky thing in a democracy. As my old Constitutional Law teacher used to say, ultimate power is not in the majority in an election but in the street violence that the people can unleash if they don't feel represented.

So the real strength of ND will be its ability to attract the support (at least in the Parliament if not in the government) of another ally, in order to get this badly lacking legitimacy. ND and PASOK asked SYRIZA to join, but its leader, Alexis Tsipras, is too clever for Greece's own good and refused flatly. He knows that his popularity is only linked to his new boyish face and empty promises. If he joins the majority, he will disappear politically. So Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos (the ND and PASOK leaders respectively) will have to cut a deal with another party or two. The most obvious candidate is the smaller Democratiki Aristera (Democratic Left), a moderate party of progressive leaning technocrats. Its leader, Fotis Kouvelis, previously rejected such a deal, but concessions by ND and PASOK and opening by German negotiators could make him change his mind. Same is true for Anexartitoi Ellines (Independant Greeks), an ultra-conservative group of Church and Fatherland types.

None of these two parties got enough votes to help the future government cross the 50% votes legitimacy threshold. But, if both join, this threshold would be passed. Such a scenario is highly unlikely. To be honest, the presence of any of the two is very likely to prevent the other from joining as their ideologies are diametrically opposed. There is only so much you can ask for the good of the country...

11 June 2012

Politics in Greece

It is very difficult to understand Greece with North-West Europe references. Not that Greece is particularly "exotic" or "alien", but mostly because it has a rather troubled recent History that most foreigners or visiting tourists don't know well (and I was one of these poorly informed people). The political landscape in Greece used to be rather simple, at least seen from the outside, opposing since 1974 conservatives (Nea Democratia) to socialists (PASOK). Fringe smaller parties also existed, such as populist right wing LAOS (a Church and fatherland resurgence of older parties) or the older Communist KKE (pronounce koeh-koeh-A). But they never were in a position to challenge the duopoly of the two party system and the fact is that most current and numerous parties in Greece did not exist under their current form only 10 years ago.

Most of this is linked to the fact that Greece, from 1967 to 1974, was under the regime of conservative putschist colonels. Both conservative and socialist parties were created as a reaction to this regime and the communist KKE (which had been clandestine since the end of the Second World War) was only legalized at this time too. This has had a profound influence on the way Greek citizens view authority, political parties and ideologies. Parties were identified, consciously or not, in relation to their relationship with the colonels' junta (as it is called in Greece) and ideologies, behaviors, political myths and realities are also shaped by the trauma of the brutal dictature. Nationalist parties are often associated to this regime and illegal or damaging activities of leftist ones are often considered less negatively, because of their resistance to it.

All this changed in the last 10 to 5 years, and even more with the recent economic crisis. The political system has suddenly exploded, ending the dominance of the two party system. New players in the political field include radical left Syriza, Democratic Left (Aristera), Golden Dawn (neo-nazis), the ecologist Green and LAOS (Religious Nationalists). Most of these parties embody in fact, a certain modernity in the Greek system, for the better and for the worst. Indeed, all these new parties reflect issues and ideas that are found now in most other democracies, but which were prevented from expressing themselves by the two-party system. I use this term on purpose, as this "system" was not in any way a product of the Constitution of the IIIrd Hellenic Republic, but because it was, in my opinion a perversion of it. In other terms, both conservative and socialist put in place a strong nepotism and clientele system, corrupting the Greek democracy and effectively preventing the occurrence of political and ideological alternative. Of course, one should avoid excessive generalisation, and both parties certainly had honest members. But the leadership of these parties clearly and obviously maintained their power by way of services against votes and money against services. To get anything done in Greece (public or private) you would need a political support in one of these two parties. To a certain extent, this is still true today.

But the emergence and rise of other political and ideological offer, as well as the systematic failure by both traditional parties to handle the economic crisis, making it even worse, has created the current political quagmire. No party at the moment can claim any kind of majority. But more importantly, the separation between the parties no longer reflect the right or left paradigm but also the separation between old school politics and the new ways. The issue is as much generational as it is ideological. Hence the impossibility to build any coalition between parties which should, from an external point of view, be logical allies. It goes against the mentality of the politician involved but also against years of History. They are unable to handle the crisis or give coordinated answer to Greece's problems simply because there is no structure any more in Greece politics.

01 June 2012

Greece at last or new beginning

After nine months of letting this blog pretty much slowly die, I have decided that my personal circumstances were justifying a relaunch. Due to private reasons, I just relocated to Greece, in Nea Ionia (Attika). Many friends and relative have been a bit shocked or at least surprised by this decision, considering that Greece is going currently through quite difficult times. The country is experimenting a dreadful economic crisis, while the political crisis is raging at the same time. I thought it would be interesting for readers to hear from me what it means to live this daily.

It has definitely a very strong link to the main topic of this blog, as, if you want to believe most media, Greece issues are now European ones and the solutions and problems we are experimenting here are dealt with at the European level. More generally, it seems to me and many other observers that the crisis which is so acutely felt here is also a symptom of the more general problems that Europa is currently experiencing. It can be seen through the local prism of the budget and debt issue, but it can also be described as a growth crisis of the European concept. Solidarity, economic rationality, democracy, federalism and nationalism are all being tested simultaneously and how we (citizens) are going to answer this is going to determine the future of this continent, not just the price of bread in Athens.