Thursday, 10 May 2012

Why A Repeat Election is Likely

This post can also be read on Al Jazeera
Greek political parties began a third and final attempt today to form a government. Coalition talks have so far foundered on the fact that last Sunday’s election gave equal seats in parliament to pro-austerity and anti-austerity forces.  

The mandate to form a government now goes to the pro-austerity socialists. They can count on support from their erstwhile coalition partners, the conservatives. Both want Greece to stay in the euro, endure further, massive budget cuts next month, and repay its loans to the European Union. But they no longer have the power to govern. They need the support of the small but moderate Democratic Left. 

That party is under intense pressure from the radical left Syriza to deny support and lead the country to another election. Syriza has been the main beneficiary of the last election, quadrupling its standing to 16.78 percent of the vote by promising to denounce the bailout, reverse budget cuts, renege on loan repayment and re-audit the debt. While voters are in flux they hope for further gains.  

Fotis Kouvelis, Democratic Left leader, has said he will not participate in a government that does not include Syriza, or accept the poisoned chalice of a consensus premiership.

There are four main likely scenarios in the following 72 hours. The most optimistic is that socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos succeeds in including the Democratic Left and wins a vote of confidence. Together the socialist Pasok, conservative New Democracy and Democratic Left would wield 168 seats in the 300 seat legislature, a comfortable outright majority.

More realistically, Venizelos might not succeed in winning over the Democratic Left, but persuade them to abstain from the vote of confidence. Confidence motions are calculated as an absolute majority of the MPs present, so the absence of two or more MPs automatically allows the coalition of Pasok and New Democracy to vote themselves in, even though they do not have an absolute majority of seats.

It is even possible, though unlikely, that Venizelos and conservative leader Antonis Samaras might engage in guerrilla tactics to convince MPs to disobey their party leaders and abstain from the vote of confidence, achieving the same result.

However, the likeliest scenario is that Venizelos will persuade Kouvelis neither to actively back his coalition, nor to benignly neglect to show up for a vote of confidence, because either way Kouvelis stands to be accused of betraying the left as it was poised to make history in a repeat election. There are also major disincentives for Venizelos and Samaras to try and govern with 149 MPs, 50 of which are a now controversial bonus to the party that comes first. They would be accused of a constitutional coup for the sole purpose of putting through 12 billion euros' worth of budget cuts in June. Social unrest outside parliament as well as uproariousness inside would be likely. New Democracy and Pasok would lose MPs and voters as precipitously as before. Finally, they would probably help to achieve what the left never managed, its unification around Syriza, and the strengthening of Syriza's hand in an inevitable repeat election.

The fourth and final scenario is therefore likely, that Venizelos fails to win over the Democratic Left, and fails or chooses not to secure its absence in a vote of confidence. Greece's aloof president, Karolos Papoulias, would then convene the party leaders in a last-ditch effort at a national unity government. Failing that, Greece will hold another election in June.

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