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Posted on: March 19th, 2012 No Comments

The fear of upcoming elections in Greece

During one of the previous Eurogroup meetings that had turned ugly for Greece, Evangelos Venizelos was told that all Greek political parties should sign up to any new bailout agreement. Euro area Finance Ministers had done their homework, had printouts of opinion polls on their hands and were aware of the fact that, left and far right parties would try to avoid such a commitment. Αs a commentator wrote in a Guardian timeline of the Greek crisis, some small parties could see the chance to make gains at the election by portraying themselves as being against the cuts and for Greece’s independence. The same commentator continued: “At least one party leader has said Greece should sign up now and simply renege on its commitments after the elections.” This was how Greece was viewed from the north.

Within the country, everybody knew that the argument was accurate; it described a vacuum in political representation that a series of politicians from both sides of the political spectrum were already determined to fill up. Hence the emergence of new parties (3 new parties were launched within a few days) complicated things even further. In last week’s Public Issue poll, support for New Democracy and PASOK added up to 36% (probably a 60% in the polls, according to pollsters), as compared with more than 77% in 2009 elections. Overall, one month or so before the snap elections, the centre right camp collects around 36% and the centre left 43% (extreme rights and Communists excluded respectively), with political power spreading across a 9-party parliament. What keeps things rolling is the 50-seat bonus awarded to the leading party under Greece’s electoral system. This is the only reason New Democracy can continue dreaming playing a leading role in post-election political developments. However, in times of crisis, the 40 days that follow towards the polls seem like an eternity in election terms. Many things can go wrong.

The fear of upcoming elections stems from the old illnesses of Greek politics, a sickening system of quid pro quo that secured the power of partisan mechanisms in a secret long-standing consensus. This has been the main reason the 6-year Karamanlis administration and the 2-year Papandreou government were annulled into a spiral of ineffectiveness and fear.

Today things are quite different. After the PSI and the new loan agreement with the EU/IMF, Lucas Papademos’ government embarks into a legislative rally in a countdown until Friday April 6, when the Parliament will probably conclude its works and elections will be proclaimed for April 29, or May 6. Until then, the government has to table in Parliament and vote 2 omnibus bills and the new loan agreement. Also, around 50 ministerial decrees will be issued to provide for implementation of policies agreed with the troika, including a series of harsh structural measures. After the elections, the new government will have to come up with a new tax bill until the end of May, whilst in June, new measures of EUR 11 billion need to be announced and another EUR 3 billion is projected from the battle against tax evasion, according to Poul Thomsen.

In parallel with the government work, runs pre-election rhetoric and political events that aim to mobilize party supporters and sympathisers who are flirting with absenteeism or the negative vote. In this 40-day frenzy, cheap shots, populism and extreme partisanship will be the norm, in an endless blame game nobody really cares about. All type of strategies and practices will be tested on the field. Assigning blame and spinning provocative information are expected to be the norm of those involved in political dogfight, towards an election that has no real agenda. All documents have been signed, commitments have been declared and the required legislation will be secured fast track until April 6.

The future of Greek political parties is already narrated, dictated by the reality of governance in the Memorandum era. In a very recent Hellenic Observatory paper, Athens University professor Christos Lyrintzis wrote: “there are clear signs of fatigue of the political forces that dominated the Greek political scene for 35 years. Their practices, decisions and omissions have been registered in the collective social memory, and it is reasonable to assume that this will be registered at the forthcoming elections. The most probable result will be the end of the era of the autonomous one party governments and possibly a realignment of the political forces.”

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