PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos is well aware of the measures required by the troika representatives as well as by Greek fiscal reality. He has been at Stournaras’ shoes and knows what to expect. He also understands that himself and his coalition partner from the left Fotis Kouvelis (Democratic Left chief) are trapped between pre-election rhetoric and post election reality.
Current government coalition has been a possibility even before the votes were counted on the night of June 17. And as most analysts admit, elections were won due to fear tactics explored by old politics. Samaras, Venizelos and Kouvelis, after failing to agree in May, they got a second chance in June to form a government that should be willing to sacrifice itself to save the country.
In troika’s mind, there was only one path: to follow the Papademos’ government way. However, this was something Greek voters pledged the new government to avoid. When they heard the right-wing rhetoric built around the ‘MoU re-negotiation’ concept, they thought they did it. When Antonis Samaras promised to renegotiate the infamous Memorandum, voters saw an opportunity to combine austerity relief with the conservative, safer approach of ND. So they ditched the radical vote, doing Alexis Tsipras a favor, who, in reality, hoped to spend sometime in the opposition before getting serious with the country’s core politics.
By voting for old politics, Greeks decided to stay in familiar waters and refrain from exploring the uncertainty of the new. Besides, a 3-year austerity made people weaker, placing them closer to the indifference threshold.
Unfortunately or not, voters were spared with the technicalities. Pre-election rhetoric was based on the magic word of ‘re-negotiation’; a handful of columnists and politicians who really explained the fallacy were swamped by partisan juxtaposition. On election night, the new Prime Minister already abandoned the strong campaign word and started talking about ‘amendments’ that would be put into effect sometime during the 4-year period of governance and, most importantly, they would be received as a ‘bonus’ for playing the predetermined austerity cards right.
This is how a government can screw up political communication strategy (if any) overnight. Hardcore Samaras’ associates will probably say that communication is not that important, since what matters is real structural changes. Wrong. In times of crisis, people are disoriented. If you do not package your politics right, you are finished, especially in Greece, and particularly when you are a conservative leader running a coalition scheme supported by the socialists and the left.
From the moment the coalition is once again messing around with pensions, salaries and social benefits (namely horizontal measures) the pistol is cocked and the trigger is about to be pressed. Is people’s new disappointment enough to break a government? Probably not, but if the opposition manages to give meaningful words to social discontent, then breaking a link would be enough to unlock the administration and take it down; not noisily on the streets of Athens, but in the chambers of strategic politics.
The survival of the government depends on a really weak link held by PASOK leadership and this weak link is about to crack for a variety of reasons.
First of all, despite all the laws and measures passed in the past, most people consider the attack on household income a fresh piece of government policy. Being under the bankruptcy threat is no longer a strong argument; it was burned out during the Papandreou years.
The government’s vagueness about the new austerity measures continues the fear tactics, making things even worse. This alienates voters even further from the old political system, whose leftovers were used to form today’s government coalition. In simple terms, those who initiated fear and presented themselves as citizens’ protectors quickly failed on their promises and once more engaged fear as a tool to bail themselves out of the pressure.
When you need cash fast, is there any other alternative than cut spending from the source? Probably not, but why lie to the people? Was it the result of amateur political spinning or a failure of leadership to assess reality?
And this brings us to coalition’s inner politics. Old PASOK and Venizelos are in a down slope (sources say that a new formation is under way by key PASOK people) and Kouvelis is already experiencing an identity crisis and is in no position to play a role without the intermediary socialist link. This could crack the government in no time.
But still, a triggering event is required to make things roll that should be about the people (and not about partisan relations) and would put the coalition in a real unity test. In my view, this grassroots event is already scheduled in the political agenda for late August or early September and has nothing to do with troika’s wises.
It will be genuinely about the people and for the people.
This is the new draft bill for the relief of over-indebted households from loan obligations, tabled by SYRIZA to be discussed when the Parliament returns from the summer break.
Tsipras’ political argument is simple and involves hundreds of thousands of households that saw their budgets flattened by the crisis, due to unemployment or massive reduction of income. This policy was included in Antonis Samaras’ speeches during the pre-election period, but nothing is heard ever since.
The technical argument is that the banks are making up the losses from bad loans through their recapitalization from the Credit Stability Fund. At the same time, the banks continue to demand the repayment of the delayed installments, regardless of the fact that those loans have been classified as bad debts and are taken into account by the recapitalization.
In plain talk, those who will disagree with the bill would sound like asking Greek people to pay the banks twice for financial management failures of the past: first, via national borrowing for recapitalization, and second, from their own pockets for bad personal loans.
So, who is going to disagree with Tsipras’ proposal and on what grounds? In terms of political communication, this move is an absolute winner. It could rule the agenda and meddle beautifully with the new austerity measures the coalition government is about to announce; furthermore, it corners the coalition government politically, and challenges MPs (through a catalogue name vote) on an individual as well as collective level.
Conspiracy advocates could say that this is planned between the Premier and the main opposition. If this is not the case, New Democracy will have to react, PASOK and Democratic Left will have to take sides; MPs individually will have to do the same. This could prove to be a unique moment in Greek politics, gathering an across the board agreement, or the trigger in question, ending up being a win-win for the centre left.
It could also make Antonis Samaras the Prime Minister serving the shortest term in modern Greek history and turn Alexis Tsipras into the youngest one, ever.
Dr. Demetris Kamaras is the Editor of Alyunaniya.com