Thursday, 24 May 2012

The way we are: Elections revisited

I always vote because it's a duty, the only responsibility I've been given to choose how to run the country. Those who don't vote and then complain about the way their country is governed have no right to voice their opinion.

In the first round of this year's elections, I voted for the Greens. All other times I have voted in general elections, it's always been for KKE, as my way of saying "I want a coalition government"; KKE always secured seats in Parliament, but only once (before my time in Greece) did it help to secure a coalition, albeit a short-lived one. I never vote for 'big' parties (ie the governing one and their main opposition) because even in my early years in Greece, I felt suspicious of them. Now everyone admits that they only ever worked for their own limited interests rather than for the common good. Even if their leaders are really saying the truth now, it's obvious the party is over for them - Greeks are sick of the old boy's school club, and the whole of Europe knows this now.

This time, I also let go of KKE for the same reasons that I don't vote big parties. Apart from having tired of the outdated sickle symbol, in the same way that I'm tired of seeing the same faces in politics over the last 20 years who helped destroy Greece, I'm now also tired of uncooperative pretend-do-gooders: KKE knows it will never govern the country on its own majority, but it doesn't want to work with another party to do this, either. Hence: Ουστ!

The Greens didn't muster enough people's votes to secure a voice in Parliament, but I don't feel that I didn't come out a winner; the effect of voting for a small party in the previous elections did something that no other election did in the past: it smashed the system. Not only was there no clear majority, but the two main parties in Greek politics for the last 40 years were now two of the main three parties - SIRIZA took second place in the polls, sandwiched between ND (with a similar overall percentage of votes) and PASOK (who got the raw end of the stick). Even combined, these three parties didn't even get half the vote!!! Other winners included spin-offs whose leaders are former members of the other parties (ie I would never vote for them, either), as well as the Greek version of the Nazi party (who will probably get fewer votes next time round because they do not give a good image in the media).

I don't know what to make of SIRIZA, a fresh new party with a young leader. "Alexis Tsipras, head of SYRIZA, said ... the radical left coalition wanted to put an end to austerity, keep Greece in the eurozone and strike new alliances to overcome the crisis." It all sounds good in theory, but SIRIZA didn't cooperate with anyone who was given the chance to form a new government which led to the new elections. When SIRIZA was handed the reins to form a government, they did manage to get some support from one other party, but it wasn't enough to secure the seats needed. SIRIZA is probably counting on their new-found popularity: ‎"Tsipras argued that the existing political system had been taken by surprise following the recent May 6 elections and was now fighting back." They're suffering from the same megalomania that the other parties have/had, wanting to win with a majority on their own, presumably so that they don't have to cooperate with anyone else when they make their decisions (in the same way that the other parties governed Greece in the past). 

SIRIZA is a whole new kettle of fish. It's still all Greek to most foreigners, who are trying to work out the New Greek Order since the last elections. But it looks as though SIRIZA is going to be a very Greek thing after all. Alexis Tsipras is only 37 years old, a home-grown kind of kid with a fresh face, who's been in politics all his life. But his English stinks: wasn't I arguing a couple of days ago that all Greek children learn English at private language schools? (I wonder what he was doing when he was a little boy.) When Tsipras speaks English, he reminds me of an awkward backwardness, a kind of village bumpkin character that I thought the Greek identity had surpassed.

Listen to Alexis Tsipras speaking with CNN's Christiane Amanpour - she had to simplify her own linguistic style in order to have an interlligible conversation with him.

Tsipras' rudimentary English skills (I'd class him as close to the B2 target, but not quite there), make him a truly home-grown potential leader. For years, Greece had been ruled by people who had grown up or been born in another country, or had studied for so many years abroad, that their thinking patterns resembled the Anglo-Saxons. Papandreou was called an American, Simitis was called a German, Samaras was educated in the US (where he attended university with Papandreou); no one can make such a statement of Tsipras.

Tsipras would do better to speak Greek instead of English to the foreign press, and hire an interpreter, just like his bigger-and-better European colleagues. Merkel is only heard speaking German, while Hollande is only heard speaking French. When Tsipras speaks, it should be in Greek. That's something that was missing from our previous leaders - they were all rich, foreign-born or foreign-educated and had powerful relatives, unlike this new man, a grass-roots Greek at all levels. 

We had our fun in the last election. Now, we have to play the game more seriously. A leader (from amongst many bad ones), preferably among a coalition, must be elected this time round. We can't afford a third chance to decide this, in the same way that we (and the whole of Europe, for we are in this together) can't afford the drachma. I'm keeping track of all the opinions that are swaying my vote on an everyday basis as a way to help me decide who I vote for on June the 17th, 2012 (which I'll start sharing with you soon).   

One thing I'm sure of is that I am so glad I'm living in Greece at this time of my life, to be witness to the destruction of that hated Greek elitist system which got the most stupid people into positions of power, while the most useful among them were relegated to the dark silent background. I'm glad to be in the thick of something new, in the same way that people remember the rise of Papandreou and PASOK in 1981. This novelty is not limited to Greece; it's pan-European, with a global outlook. And I am also very lucky that my children are at just the right age to not have to worry about how their country is being governed at the moment. By the time they leave school and finish with compulsory military duty (if it still exists then), things will undoubtedly be better, no matter who is leading us. 

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