Europe in the back seat as disillusioned Greeks focus on local issues

The outcome of these elections will be a barometer of public opinion

On my terrace, the breeze lifts the olive leaves from green to silver; at night, the garden lit up by teeming fireflies, I hear the mating call of the skops owl. It’s difficult to think that upcoming local and European elections are causing heated debates just 200 metres up the lane at the village bar.

Greeks can be very argumentative. The raised voice and clenched fist are merely ways of saying, vehemently, “Sorry, I don’t agree with you” or “What kind of eejit are you?” Only in extremely divisive situations, such as led to the civil war in the 1940s or the military junta (1967-74) does it provoke violence. These days, there isn’t enough energy to drive an ideological buggy, let alone a war.

Actually, Greeks hardly care about the European side of it. But they have a greatly diminished voice in local affairs: in Corfu, where I live, the 13 municipalities were amalgamated, with a single mayor who doesn’t even know where our village is. The roads are so bad, we need a “pothole candidate”. So they care deeply about how they are represented locally.

The outcome of these elections will be a barometer of public opinion, and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras may decide not to go the full stretch to 2016.

At national level, Greeks' disillusion with all political shades has been reflected by the parliamentarians themselves, sensing their own impotence as decision-makers, and leading to a fragmentation of the larger parties.

Since 2010, at least nine splinter parties have been formed, some by principled MPs who could no longer support the government, others by careerists who are far from principled. Very few have any hope of gaining the 3 per cent of the national vote which is the threshold to parliament.

In 2012, necessity threw together the traditional rivals, New Democracy (ND) and Pasok, into an unholy coalition: it started with a sizeable majority, which disaffection has reduced to a mere two seats, due to voting on a multi-purpose law forced through at the insistence of the troika. This law, much feared by vested interests, provides for deregulation of protected professions and increased efficiency and redundancies in the public service. The coalition’s “satisfaction” rating has sunk to 20 per cent.

In a general election, the party with most elected MPs is awarded an extra 50 seats and is asked by the president to form a government. Opinion polls depend on who is calling the tune for the way they describe the political spectrum.

But in general terms, ND and the chief opposition, left-wing Syriza, are neck-and-neck on 20 per cent to 21 per cent apiece. If this held up in a general election, it would give the winner 60-63 seats, plus the 50-seat bonus, still 40 short of even the slimmest majority.

The issue would then focus on a coalition partner. Pasok, which for decades was regarded by many as embodying the postwar state, has sunk so low (less than 4 per cent) that its chances of forming any coalition are negligible. Like Fianna Fáil, in similar circumstances, it is desperately trying to rethink its identity and its relationship to the people.

Until very recently, the fascist party, Golden Dawn (GD), was running in third place: at the height of its popularity, it had 12 per cent of the vote, but its involvement in criminal activities (including murder and arson) and a report highlighting its infiltration of the army, police and judiciary, has seen it drop to 8 per cent. The rise of the very new "Potami" (River) Party, on about 9 per cent, seems to have pushed GD into fourth place.

New parties
Of the other new parties, only Independent Greeks (4 per cent) and Democratic Left (which quit the coalition last year, and is now on 3 per cent) are in the frame. "Burning Hot Greece" (I kid you not) and EPAM (United Peoples Front) are among those without a snowflake's chance in hell.

Most voters are apprehensive that GD might hold the balance of power in a new parliament, without necessarily being in government. But they are equally aware that the highly principled and well-intentioned Potami, with what seem to be sensible, popular policies, is completely lacking in political experience. This may appeal to those who are fed up with the current politicians, but it is not a great recipe for pragmatic government.

The increasing European phenomenon of popular support for right-wing parties will not be entirely reflected in this month’s polls in Greece: there is an undercurrent of discontent with the present political spectrum, which would hope to see other methods of determining Greece’s return to stability, self-confidence and self-respect. Personally, I’d support the Firefly Party: it makes no promises, only comes out at night, and lives a mere two to three weeks.

Read More