The situation in Greece is giving clear evidence that economics never could be separated from politics, and that the subject should have retained its original title of ‘political economy’. It is also demonstrating the terror that strikes the heart of the elites when people begin to act like democratic citizens and try to influence the policies of their country, particularly policies in the crucial areas of currency, taxation and wealth.
The following summary of the outcome of the Greek elections is based on information supplied by Christina Laskaridis of the Greek Debt Audit Campaign.
The most striking outcome of the elections is the collapse in credibility of the conventional parties, what would be called in the UK the ‘mainstream parties’, i.e. those that support the neoliberal hegemony. In an exceptional situation since the retreat of the generals in 1974, neither of these parties has managed to gain a majority. Prior to the crisis they received around 70-90% of the popular vote; this has fallen to 33%. New Democracy’s vote has fallen from 33% in 2009 to 19% and from 2.3 million votes to 1.2 million. Pasok’s vote has fallen from 44% to 13% and from from 3 million votes to 800,000.
In desperation Greeks have voted for a whole range of other parties, some old and some new, but through this messy situation one thing becomes clear: it is the parties that have resisted the crippling requirements of the EU central authorities that have gained. So the far right party Laos, which supported the Eurozone agreement, saw its support fall from 5.6% to 2.9%, whereas the fascist party Golden Dawn, which resisted the deal, saw a huge increase in its vote (to 7% from nowhere). In total the vote for the far right has risen from 6% in 2009 to 21%.
The real winner from the elections was the Syriza: its vote increasing from 4.6% to 17%. Their support was especially strong in all the big cities (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras) and in working-class neighbourhoods. Its platform was for an end to the impossible and destructive ‘austerity’ agreement, called ‘memorandums’ by Greek commentators, but a continuation of membership of both the EU and the euro. While this position seems impossible, it is precisely the right position to challenge elite domination of European financial and economic institutions. The other parties of the left, the Communists (KKE: 8.5%) and Antarsya (1.2%) both campaign for Greece to leave the EU.
Again, as in the UK, a growing number of electors are voting for parties that are prevented from entering the parliament. Greece has a PR system (with a twist) but the 3% threshold is now keeping the chosen representatives of 18% of electors outside the parliament. The twist is that the party that garners the most votes in the election is then gifted an additional 50 seats. This means that New Democracy, the party that formerly governed and was roundly rejected now has by far the largest number of seats: 108.
An important lesson from the Greek political situation seems to me to be one about engagement and representation, and it links directly to the nature of the electoral system. The free-gift-of-50-seats rule was presumably instituted to avoid the weak governments that a widely allocated vote can result in, since it creates an in-built majority. Its consequence has been to guarantee that absolute power has shifted between the largest parties of centre-right and centre-left — New Democracy and PASOK — for the past 40 years. This has left many Greek citizens’s views unrepresented and has surely encouraged the corrupt and self-serving nature of Greek politics. Our first past the post system is also partly used to create a pressure towards majority governments, and the corruption and failure to respond to electors here arises from a similar source.