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Election of the weekend #2: Greece


A precursor to this weekend’s Greek election was an exercise in militant democracy: earlier this year the Greek parliament voted to ban political parties led by convicted felons. This excluded the National Party–Greeks from participating in this election, as they are led by Ilias Kasidiaris, the former Golden Dawn politician currently serving a 13 year sentence for “directing a criminal organization.” (After winning the third most seats in the previous election, the ultranationalists of Golden Dawn were shut out of parliament in 2019.) The vote on this new law followed a distinctively horseshoe pattern–the center-adjacent parties on the left and the right passed it, the communists and reactionaries voted against it, and the left-populist Syriza split the baby and voted “present.”

This law effectively blocks the National Party–Greeks (an ideological successor party to the Golden Dawn, which is essentially defunct now as much of its leadership is in jail) from participation in this election. The primary contenders are New Democracy, the ruling center-right pro-Europe party, whose lead in the polls has been shrinking as election day approaches, and are currently polling in the mid-30’s, and Syriza, the left-populist party ousted from power in 2019, founded a coalition of various smaller parties in 2004 and lead by former PM Alexis Tsipras, whose polling has remained constant at around 30%. A more traditional center-left party, PASOK, is around 10%. The Communist Party, the Fascists of “Greek Solution,” and a left-wing party that recently splintered from Syriza are hovering in the mid-single digits. While 27 parties and 8 alliances will appear on the ballot, it appears unlikely any of the rest will have sufficient support to meet the 3% threshold to enter parliament.

Based on the polling, it looks a fairly uninteresting status quo election, with New Democracy likely to retain their modest majority and political control. However! There have been changes in the electoral system that will make it more difficult to obtain an outright majority. In 2016, Syriza changed the electoral system to a simple proportional system, which effectively means a party needs roughly 46-47% to win an outright parliamentary majority. In 2020, New Democracy passed laws returning Greece to a “reinforced proportionality” system with a substantial seat bonus for the leading party, meaning the largest party likely only needs around 39% to win an outright majority. However, under the Greek constitution, while the electoral system can be changed with a simple parliamentary majority, those changes do not take effect until after the next election. In order to make changes for the next election, a 2/3 supermajority is required, which New Democracy did not obtain. (The same rule and situation applied to Syriza’s change in 2016, making tomorrow’s election the only one that will take place under the 2016 election laws.) As New Democracy does not appear to have any obvious coalition partners, there is some fear that this election, while appearing to be status quo-reinforcing in the vote totals, this election will produce a hung parliament. This would lead, in all likelihood, to another election in July, but under the 2020 laws, which would give New Democracy a much better chance of obtaining a parliamentary majority with current levels of electoral support.

Their declining position in polls is such that an alternative–Syriza as the largest party–appears to be within the realm of possibility, although this is widely regarded to be highly unlikely. In terms of the substance of the campaign: Opposition parties have tried to hit ND as complicit in a recent horrific train crash, in which 57 people died. Is this why ND has been dropping in the polls? No idea. The campaigns are predictable enough–ND is running on a promise of sustained moderate economic growth and attractive foreign investment; Syriza is promising increased wages and pensions and profit caps in the energy sector. One question of interest is how much of the vote these mainstream parties will be able to retain, particularly from the skeptical younger voters.

Looking into the Greek political situation has piqued my curiosity about the Golden Dawn story. A nasty, nativist, neo-fascist party born in 2008 rises to the level of 3rd largest party in parliament, but is effectively declared a criminal organization with a side hustle as a political party; most of senior leadership have now been tried and convicted. On the surface, it looks like a robust success story for militant democracy, which has become something of a hot topic in democratic theory recently (in democratic theory, militant democracy refers to anti-democratic policies and actions taken in the name of protecting democracy from internal enemies; while there are many such policies that qualify, banning parties is the most obvious one). It was first an interesting theoretical debate in the 1930’s and of course the practical implications were immediately made clear. At any rate, any good reading recommendations on the rise and fall of Golden Dawn would be welcomed.

…this series causing me to learn about the deficiencies of the New York Times’ international political coverage. It’s perhaps not that surprising there’s no story about the Timor-Leste election, but there’s also nothing on the Greek election, except a story in the Art and Design section about what this election might mean for the ongoing negotiations with the British museum to repatriate some historically significant marbles.

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