Monday, 17 August 2015

Snap elections? (Πρόωρες εκλογές΄)

Summertime is holiday time in Greece. Except if you're a Greek politician. These days they are lucky if they can arrange a day trip or perhaps a weekend away from work. They are now working on call, just like doctors, who are called in at all hours of the day and night to save lives. Their job: to save Greece. Just what they are saving Greece from is unclear these days: when the cicadas are singing, life looks very rosy. While Greeks go about their summer business and flock to the beaches, Greece seems to be just pulling through.

It was not always like this. Back in the good old days when Greece didn't need to worry about where her euros came from, the Greek parliament would wind down by the end of June and wouldn't reopen until some time in September. Parliamentarians went to their summer homes, their island homes and/or their favorite resorts, and took good long rests. They were never bothered by anyone at this time. Their main public appearances were at restaurants in their summer holiday clothing. These days, they are more likely to be photographed sleeping in Parliament as the government fast-tracks reform packages in exchange for bailout money.

Syriza MPs getting a snooze in, during a debate in the Greek Parliament that lasted from Wednesday night to Friday morning. 

This year, life in Greece has felt very unstable. We have no idea what is in store for us, except the paying of more taxes. Not even August has felt normal: only just last week, we had rainstorms in Crete. (Although I do in fact remember this happening on the very same day - 14th of August - 12 years ago. Not quite climate change after all.)
14th of August, 2015, 2.15pm - by 3pm, I had turned on the lights in the house. A Kiwi friend flying into Hania for her holidays on this day thought she had landed in Wellington. Watch the fata morgana effect of last week's rainstorm on the video link below.

Because of the fast pace of change in the Greek political climate, it is difficult to know what is going on. Having said this, Greek politics are much more transparent than they ever were in the past. I seem to remember who is who these days and I can put names to faces and vice-versa. What's more, it's quite obvious what is happening: In a nutshell, Greece needs money, creditors won't give up funds without firm promises, and not everyone agrees with the promises. These issues are being debated in Parliament under time constraints. In essence, the Greek economy is no longer under Greece's jurisdiction, given that we are in great debt and we have no way of printing our own money, so there is no need to debate any economic issues. But debate is part of a democracy, and debate we must. The outcomes of these debates are not really the problem: it's the origin of the number of 'agree' and 'disagree' votes that is now creating the unstable political climate in Greece.

By the end of this week, Greeks will know whether we are in for a new round of elections. The governing party SYRIZA, in its origins a far-Left party, was voted in in January of this year as government of Greece with a majority, at roughly 29% of the vote. But that majority was not enough to allow SYRIZA to govern on its own. So SYRIZA joined forces with ANEL, a minority far-Right party with less than 6% of the vote, to form a coalition. Their sole common interest was that they were both against the Memorandum of Understanding (read: loan agreement) that the previous coalition government had signed up to.

Six months later, SYRIZA has changed course, by pushing a new Memorandum through the Greek Parliament. This did not go unnoticed by Greeks, other Europeans and the global Western world. In a normal political climate, it could be said that SYRIZA moved from the Left to the Centre. But Greece's politics are not normal at all: the Memorandum was not voted in by a SYRIZA/ANEL majority - a good many SYRIZA Members of Parliament voted against it but it was supported by the opposition parties: NeaDimokratia, PASOK and ToPotami.

Understandably, things have come to a head: SYRIZA is now unable to rule with a majority of its own members. Tsipras called a confidence vote scheduled for this week, and if he loses it, he will probably call snap elections. No one really knows the outcome of the confidence vote, even though Greeks are generally agreeing on the idea that they don't want to go back to the polls this year. But so much has changed over the past six months. As SYRIZA rethinks their original agenda, so do Greeks rethink the reasons why they voted in SYRIZA. SYRIZA remains the most popular political party in Greece, and Tsipras remains the most popular leader. This is despite veering towards the Centre rather than remaining on the Left. I call it 'growing up'. Pavlos Tsimas, a Greek journalist writing for the Huffington Post, calls it 'coming of age':
"We succumbed to magical thinking when we believed that we could write off our debt without penalty, that we could, with some difficult trickery, of the kind that they do in the West Indies and at the Zappeion, reduce deficits without austerity, that with our vote alone we would change the whole of Europe, that we could stick out our tongue at the Eurozone, without jeopardizing our participation in it, when Alexis said he would make a proposal to Merkel that she wouldn't be able to refuse, or when Yanis tried to convince him that if we ran out of negotiating time, we would breach payments and introduce a fancy, virtual currency in our transactions, the world would fall on its knees offering us gold, frankincense, and myrrh...
We lived through it; it ended on July 12; the agreement confirms the end of an era. We are now experiencing an era of "coming of age," where we know that desires do not shape reality, that fantasy does not have power, that we are obligated to make choices, each of which has consequences."
SYRIZA received a mandate at the beginning of the year to trash the memorandum. We just got a new one. Then it received a second mandate when the people of Greece voted overwhelmingly to reject the troika's creditors' deal June 2015 deal. We still signed a deal. If elections go ahead, and we have to have another election, will SYRIZA/Tsipras get lucky again? At least 40 SYRIZA MPs did not support him recently, while the opposition parties did, when new measures concerning early retirement and taxation of farmers were passed through the Parliament. Who is willing to vote no confidence in the PM and risk losing their parliamentary seats?

The SYRIZA rift is looking now like a civil war within the party. Some of the rebel SYRIZA MPs have categorically stated that they will not support the Prime Minister in a vote of confidence. The heads of NeaDimokratia and PASOK have already stated that they will not support Tsipras in a confidence vote - but that is not to say that all their MPs will vote in the same way: party politics is very fluid these days in Greece. ANEL is most likely going to support Tsipras - they know they are toast if another election is called for, where Tsipras looks set to win an outright majority with SYRIZA, even though not all the present MPs will be a part of that new government. ToPotami is most likely going to support Tsipras - they are hoping to be part of his coalition (they go any way the wind blows warmer). KKE (the so-called communist party of Greece) always votes NO for everything - their recent announcement concerning the confidence vote sounds like the Delphi oracle has spoken:
«The issue is that the people must entirely remove their trust in the memorandum parties, the EU and the capitalist path, which has brought us to today's barbarity, and to trust KKE, the only power which struggles with conscience and stability, towards an exit from the crisis in favour of the people.»
Golden Dawn is also a NO party and is often ignored by the other parties. Why they don't do the same with KKE is anyone's guess - both parties are not fit to rule, nor do they have any desire to cooperate with anyone else.

So what if we did end up going to elections? SYRIZA is leading the polls, and Tsipras is often regarded as the most suitable person to be Prime Minister. One of his rebels is already talking about pushing the anti-Memorandum concept: Tsipras' response is that this shows a breaking of ranks - so they clearly won't form a part of the government, were SYRIZA to win by a majority, and it does seem that this is going to happen. They won't need to form a coalition with homophobic anti-immigration ANEL - ie ANEL knows that an election will turn them into an opposition party with no clout. The main opposition party, NeaDimokratia (centre-Right) is very weak, as it supports a Memorandum - so there is little to choose between SYRIZA and NeaDimokratia. PASOK (supposedly centre-Left) may even end up outside Parliament after a new election - they are regarded as the banana republic among the Greek political parties. The ToPotami newcomer believes it is gaining the centre ground - it claims it doesn't want new elections, but it's hoping to become at least a member of the coalition. It's a pro-Memorandum party; ditto NeaDimokratia (see above).

As if the farce is not complete, no matter how many Greek MPs give Tsipras the confidence vote to carry on with the implementation of the Memorandum, we are awaiting the thumbs up from Germany, among other European states, who must also democratically decide if they will support the new loan agreement for Greece. If global democracy is all about saying YES to white man's capitalism, why don't we all just say YES and get on with the show? We'd all be enjoying our summer holidays now.

16th of August, 2015, two days after the rains - I spent my Sunday at these Cretan beauty spots.

Elections are disruptive. If they take place in September, that means school won't even have started before it's closed down again (schools act as polling stations). If it takes place in October, we'll be on tenterhooks till then. What Greece will lose over this time if elections are to be called is more trust. The world does not feel confident about what is happening in Greece. So it isn't the Greek economy itself, or a lack of funds - it's the lack of trust in Greek institutions to stop chewing the cud and begin to implement reforms. 

Another unusual phenomenon was observed last week: 
"GREEK ECONOMY BOUNCES BACK WITH 0.8% GROWTH IN Q2: Greece’s economy grew by 0.8% in the second quarter following zero growth in the first three months of the year, according to statistics service ELSTAT. This came as a complete surprise to economists who had expected a 0.5% contraction. The first quarter was revised higher from a 0.2% decline. The figures put Greece ahead of the UK, which expanded by 0.7% between April and June. The GDP figures are for the period before Athens introduced capital controls and shut the Greek stock exchange and the banks."

It may sound difficult to believe, but it looks like there is plenty of money after all in Greece (see my previous post on capital controls). What a shame there isn't any real consensus on how to build trust and confidence in a country that truly has it all: great food, (generally) great weather, great landscape and scenery, great natural resources and, according to what tourists say, great people.

UPDATE 18-08-2015: The latest news seems to suggest that snap elections will not take place in September. In other words, we will simply be on tenterhooks throughout the fall...
UPDATE 19-09-2015 on Twitter
State TV ERT reports Tsipras spoke to Greek President Pavlopoulos last night. Content not known but speculation is about snap polls
I wish they'd make up their mind...
UPDATE 20-08-2015: The government resigns, elections are called.
UPDATE 21-08-2015: Greece has a new political party - the Left Platform is calling itself Popular Unity "Λαϊκή Ενότητα". The share of the pie is diminishing... Varoufaki and Konstantopoulou are not part of it: it is headed by Lafazanis and includes Lapavitsas, the people entrusted by Syriza - when it was a Leftie - to steer the unreformist policies. and

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