Greek elections and governance: Debating the rules, selecting the players, but no referee in sight

Greek elections are scheduled for May 6, after former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos resigned in early April, after former Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned in early November 2011.  Papademos was appointed as part of an interim coalition New Democracy and PASOK government.

Early elections are most directly a result of the decision to accept the bailout loan agreements and implement severe austerity measures with no strategy to promote economic growth. Two women are trying to take the Greek government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for implementing austerity that deprives people of their freedoms. The accusations may not lead to a trial in this court, but it is a sign of the frustrations and absence of accountability that exists within the country.

For anyone laughing at this effort, perhaps this will be less amusing: the Athens Bar Association went to the Council of State, Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, over the bailout loan agreements, which it views as “anti-constitutional since they were not voted upon with a high parliamentary majority vote, but also because they violate the constitutionally reserved rights of the citizens.” The Council judged the government’s decision to enter into the loan contract as constitutional in June 2011, in time for the parliament to approve the second bailout loan agreement. The Council may have ruled in favor of the government, but there was enough doubt in the legality of the decision-making process for an association of lawyers to move on it.

As elections approach, Greek voters must reflect, think clearly, take new action. This is not easy, given that the political system makes it different for new people to enter the system, some of the new political parties that have emerged – for a total of 32 parties on the upcoming ballot – were started by former members of the two main parties, and some are extremist and racist.

The main parties do not appear to have spent much time reflecting, thinking clearly or taking new action. The platforms (using this term loosely) are stale, unclear, contradictory, full of inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric (particularly in mongering fear against migrants and immigrants) and empty of true vision or real plan of action.

Voters have shown signs that they want to change their behavior to change the country.  There are a growing number of citizen groups dedicated to community action, volunteerism and social causes. A new political movement, Koinonikos Syndesmos (Civil Association), also launched in October 2011 with the release of a founding declaration expressing the goals of goals of engaging civil society, furthering political dialogue and facilitating political action in an effort to reform the country and to maintain its European identity.

Voters in the country may want to change their behavior in order to change the country, but are there enough substantive choices to allow for a change in behavior in a snap election?

To the world outside of Greece: pay attention.

If you think what is happening in Greece is unique to Greece, a simple matter of financial mismanagement of one country’s government now facing the consequences, or a result of ‘culture’, you are mistaken.

This European crisis is one of economic issues, an immigration and border policy that leaves responsibility distributed unevenly among member states, and, most frighteningly, of democratic governance issues:

From my earlier post: After the Greek prime minister announced a referendum on whether to accept the debt agreement, EU leaders insisted on the referendum question being ‘stay in EU or leave EU’ when there has been NO serious dialogue in Greece on this issue and polls show that 70 percent of Greeks do NOT want to leave the EU. And they set the date for December 4, leaving no time for a real debate. This is not a minor point. This is absolutely critical. A referendum alone is not democracy. A referendum is one part of a process. If you spring a referendum on people without facilitating an informed debate process, you are simply manipulating and insulting those people, and they would be right to believe that you are hiding something. Whether EU leaders were sincere or also calling Papandreou’s bluff, it is a destructive message to send throughout a union of democracies and to the rest of the world.

Undemocratic proposals are also coming from Europe regarding the level of control EU officials should have in a country’s domestic economic policies: see Myth #2 in this Forbes piece.

All of these proposals, in addition to the very real austerity measures, stand in the way of democratic reforms that remain unresolved in Greece. The system needs referees – institutions to ensure oversight, transparency and accountability. Such reforms would have helped Greek institutions combat or limit government financial mismanagement if the EU had pushed for them long ago.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou recently told TIME magazine “We were a lab rat, an experiment,” in reference to Greece being forced to accept the bailout loans and austerity measures. There was no experiment. Do we really want to pretend that there is no example in history that shows that straight austerity does intense damage to the implementing country and its people? Do we want to pretend that decision-makers in Europe, the IMF and even Greece thought this path was the wisest for Greece because they had no precedent to look back upon? The public should believe that Europe and the IMF are amateurs, rather than ask what motives these actors have besides the welfare of the Greek population or sustainable reform in the country? Seems  a little insulting.

If you believe that Greece’s crisis is purely its own, look at Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Czech Republic and then keep looking.

If Greece was an experiment, where’s the lesson that is supposed to be applied to subsequent cases?

Additional info on 2012 elections in Greece:

Profiles of the parties running in the election:
Kathimerini English Edition: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite3_1_03/05/2012_440466
Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/05/20125120322955327.html

Policy paper on the Greek elections, written by Nick Malkoutzis for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id/09061.pdf

A voter’s guide to the elections (Athens News): http://www.athensnews.gr/issue/13494/55209

Greek Elections: A Practical Guide (Greek Reporter): http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/04/30/greek-elections-a-practical-guide/

IFES Election Guide: http://www.electionguide.org/country.php?ID=85

Greece Elections – Graphic of the Day: http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/greece-elections-graphic-of-the-day/

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