PASOK and New Democracy: Still standing on Sunday?

There is little doubt that Sunday’s elections will deal painful blows to both PASOK and New Democracy. The question, though, is whether they will be knockout blows. Most indications are that despite their declining popularity Greece’s two main parties will survive.

Since 1981, PASOK and New Democracy have only once received a combined share of the vote that is less than 79 percent. This was in the most recent national elections, in 2009. It was the fourth consecutive elections in which the two parties saw their share of the vote decline but it would take a drop of monumental proportions on Sunday to keep the Socialists and conservatives from being in a position to form a government.

Exactly what percentage of the vote they would need is not clear as it will depend on how well the parties who don’t enter Parliament fare on election day. The better they do, the easier it will be for PASOK and ND to combine their forces to get the minimum of 151 seats to form a government. In 2009, the aggregate percentage of the parties that failed to make it into Parliament was less than 5 percent. If this is repeated on Sunday, the next government needs close to 39 percent of the vote for a majority.

However, it is likely that this time the support that goes to smaller, non-parliamentary parties will be higher. Some opinion polls were putting it at close to 10 percent a few weeks ago. If this is accurate, the threshold for forming a government would be less than 37 percent.

Even taking into account the anger and disappointment felt by these two parties’ traditional supporters, PASOK and ND would have to collect less than half of the 79 percent they gathered about 2.5 years ago in order to be unable to form a government. In the current fluid political environment, it’s not impossible, though it does seem highly improbable.

Should PASOK and New Democracy pass the 151-seat mark, they will face two questions: if they can work together and if they will need a third party to join their administration and boost their numbers in Parliament.

In essence, there should be little keeping PASOK and ND from cooperating. They have both agreed to the terms of the new EU-IMF loan agreement, which has more or less decided Greece’s economic, social, health and education policies for the next few years. The task of the next government will be implementing the reforms that have been agreed.

During the campaign, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and ND chief Antonis Samaras have both suggested that they would like to make some changes to the terms of the loan agreement. Venizelos wants an extra year, until 2015, for Greece to meet its fiscal targets. Samaras wants to find alternative ways to find some 11.5 billion euros of cuts for 2013 and 2014 in June. If Greece’s lenders get a coalition government they are comfortable with, it seems likely that they will allow some room for manoeuvre after the elections. Beyond that, though, there are few issues that should block a PASOK-ND coalition.

One of these might be immigration. Samaras has campaigned hard on the issue and wants to repeal a law passed by PASOK in 2010 that allows second-generation immigrants to claim Greek citizenship. It may seem like a minor issue given the economic pressures bearing down on Greece but when former Prime Minister George Papandreou called Samaras last summer to propose a coalition government — again during a period of high intensity — the ND chief made the withdrawal of the citizenship law a precondition for talks going any further.

If this gap is bridged, then the next sticking point could be who will staff the next government. PASOK does not want Samaras to be prime minister and if the difference between the two parties in terms of vote share is small, the Socialists will feel they are owed a say in who becomes the next prime minister. Clearly, this would have to be a non-divisive figure in the Lucas Papademos mould. Foreign Minister and former European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Finance minister is another position that will be contested by the two parties if they are to govern together. They may opt for a political outsider with strong economic credentials.

Should they be able to agree on all these aspects, ND and PASOK would then have to decide whether a third party should be added to their coalition. Neither side would feel comfortable with a slim majority in Parliament. This would leave them vulnerable to capricious MPs and attacks from opposition parties who would claim a lack of political legitimacy for some measures.

Having 180 or more MPs in Parliament would allow the coalition government to pass bills through the House with a qualified majority. This would give the administration a political advantage rather than a practical one as it is rare for such a majority to be required. It applies, for instance, in the case of international treaties. Where it could come into play is in the appointment of a new president in 2015 but that is too far off to be of great concern to ND or PASOK now.

In looking for a third coalition partner, the only viable candidates seem to be the Democratic Left (DIMAR), Democratic Alliance (DISY) or the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). There remains doubt over whether the last two will get into Parliament. In each case, the compromises that will have to be made to get a third party on board will have to be weighed against the extra seats that it could bring. The liberal DISY, led by former Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, appears the most pliable of the three parties. LAOS and DIMAR may ask for concessions with regard to the austerity measures.

Should all this prove too much for PASOK or ND, the other options for a coalition government are limited. Election law means that the leader of the first party will get three days to form a government. Then the right passes to the leader of the second party and if he fails, it goes to the third party.

The major surprise in this election would be for PASOK to be beaten to second place. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the right-wing Independent Greeks have been talking up their chances of doing so. SYRIZA, which is vying for disenchanted PASOK supporters, has a better chance of achieving this goal. But it may prove a hollow achievement.

If SYRIZA gets the chance to form a government, its options are limited. Any overtures to the Communist Party (KKE) will be rejected. The Democratic Left might be willing to listen but it is inconceivable that the two would have enough seats to form a government. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has suggested that he might accept support from the Independent Greeks, despite being political opposites, if there is a possibility of forming an anti-bailout front. The two parties hold similar positions on some issues relating to the loan deal but even if they are able to jump into bed together, Democratic Left is unlikely to be a willing third partner. It will probably find it much more difficult to get over its ideological differences with the Independent Greeks.

Similarly, the possibility of New Democracy forming a coalition with parties to its right seems slim. Samaras has gone out of his way to attack Independent Greeks and LAOS during this campaign, and while the taste of power can heal such wounds quickly, it is unlikely to bring these three together. The very reason for the existence of the Independent Greeks is to be in opposition, to gain power from supposedly fighting the system. So, being part of the same system would destroy the party.

There are many permutations for Sunday’s elections and the momentous changes Greece has been through over the past few years mean that uncertainty may hang over the country even after the final results are announced. However, even in this turmoil, the pillars of Greece’s political system — New Democracy and PASOK — are likely to remain standing. Battered but still standing. For how long? Well, that’s another question.

Nick Malkoutzis

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13 responses to “PASOK and New Democracy: Still standing on Sunday?

  1. No. Both parties standing is Merkel’s wish.

    Greece’s wish is one strong party governing and such would appear to be ND currently in the lead.

    Any coalition government weakens Greece and allows Berlin to call the shots and administer Greece long distance.

    The best thing for all Greeks is for only one major political party to be standing on Sunday. I don’t really care which one but it has to be one, not two.

  2. I can’t vote in this election but as an outsider watching my husband try to decide whether to vote for the party he supports (but is unlikely to enter Parliament) or for an ‘acceptable’ party that will definitely enter Parliament, is pretty infuriating. The 10% extraparliamentary rule as well as the 50 bonus seats reduce the practical legitimacy of the government before they even attempt to cobble it together.

    I’ve seen polls with ND and PASOK in 3rd and 4th place (Syriza was first and I can’t remember who was 2nd) with around 10% each but of course these ‘secret polls’ are all over the place.

  3. Whichever way I slice it, I think Venizelos’ position is more comfortable than Samaras’. Barring a majority for ND on its own, Samaras is condemned to be successful in striking a deal with Venizelos whereas Venizelos is not condemned to accept a deal with Samaras. If he doesn’t, he gets his own turn to form a coalition government after 3 days. By that time, he probably would no longer have to negotiate with Samaras (who would be brandmarked as a loser by then) but with someone else from ND, where that someone else might be more reasonable than Samaras.

    By the way, I have heard quite a bit about Stefanos Manos and his DRASI, all of it very positive. I can’t find anything in English about this man. Is there anyone here who could comment on him?

    • Manos has appeal for well-to-do Greeks who believe Greece should remain in the Eurozone. As an American I see him as quite ‘Americanized’ – many of his ideas remind me of American policies that I lived with. He has appeal for business owners, property owners, and of course Europeans. He thinks we can all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, meet the Troika’s demands, and pay for a small government with a flat tax. His stance is extremely harsh on the unemployed, underemployed, impoverished, retired, renters, etc – basically anyone who doesn’t have a job and a house. Those who make €5,000/year would pay 20% income tax – the same percent as those who make €99,000/year. All retired people would live on a pension of €6720/year (after the flat income tax is taken out). Depending on location, marital status, home ownership, and how many unemployed family members are living off the pension also, this may or may not be life-sustaining – for some it would be an improvement, for others a reduction. Anyway those are examples that I think you are familiar with in any case.

      My opinion as a woman-on-the-street (not a political analyst): he uses the rhetoric of ‘common sense’ to oversimplify issues and present them as easily fixable – not something I personally find appealing, but certainly appealing to some. He’s been around for ages, and he has his followers. I see him competing primarily with the pro-business Dimourgia Xana (Creativity Again).

      • Well, Manos has an MBA from Harvard and his is in his mid 70s. Quite old to hold office and have an impact. On top of it his party, Drasi, can’t even get close to the 3% threshold to get into Parliament.

        I know it’s quite fashionable lately in Greece to talk and want to vote for boutique parties but no serious electorate ever does such.

        Take France for example. There is a 1st round where I can vote anyone, even you Heidi, but in the 2nd round the choice is only top the top two. There is reason for such and it’s called governance. Same applies for the US. Only the top 2 produce practical government, the rest is for entertainment.

        Only the enemies of Greece would want the Greek vote to be wasted in boutique political groups. Because it makes Greece ungovernable hence subject to administration from abroad.

      • I think it comes down to what you’re voting for. Many people vote to strengthen the party for which they vote (that’s the case for small parties – and not even the small ones – anyone who votes for KKE in good conscience is only voting to strengthen KKE since KKE itself doesn’t want to govern under the current system) rather than to get them into Parliament or for a government to be formed that includes them. Take the Oikologoi Prasinoi (Ecologist Greens) as an example: they’ve been around but have never been in Parliament before – this time, it appears that they have a pretty good chance of getting 3% (who’s to say really). If no one every voted for them, they would have little chance to build up any momentum.

        If you want to vote strategically, you’re voting for a party you don’t back and don’t agree with, in order to prevent an outcome you suspect might happen. Although I don’t vote in elections of this type (American elections are quite different), I can certainly understand why someone would want to vote for the party they support; just as I can understand why someone would want to vote strategically. But this is not the US where the only thing that matters is winning – even the parties that don’t get into Parliament can influence matters.

        At least in our case, the party my husband will be voting for is the same party he’s voted for in the past – he has a history with them and was active at university with them. Although they’ve never been in Parliament, if they are strong, they can influence similar parties that are in Parliament – other parties on the same side of the spectrum, so to speak.

        In my opinion, no one’s vote is wasted. A vote is the only voice most people have; coming from a strong two-party system, I find the ability to say more than one of two things quite freeing.

      • Heidi:

        If you don’t mind the conversation, that is.

        You say, let’s vote for one’s favorite party. Whereas such behavior is easily understood, it kind of resembles voting for one’s sports team. It also reflects modern society’s tendency towards brand tribalism. For example, when you and I wear a Nike shirt or anything with a brand name on it, we basically telegraph to the rest of the world our sense of belonging and also our preferences. If for example you vote for the ecologists, you are saying “I am a very cool person” and also display a degree of sophistication which separates me from others.

        However, this election for Greece is different. We have to vote strategically because we have no other choice. I am not crazy about ND and or the party history, however, if you think about it I have no other option if I want to be an intelligent and engaged citizen.

        And since you mentioned the small parties in Greece, let me give you some thoughts on the topic (not to convince you but to basically give you another POV). Since all parties in Greece are government funded, based on % vote representation, when a small party like Syriza for example goes from 5% in the last election to 11% it’s a big deal because it doubles its revenues. However, by doing so a political party becomes another public sector employee belonging in the same class of public sector employees that everyone seems to be advising Greece to eliminate as a way out of the crisis.

        Small parties in Greece as basically actors, or theater companies, performing an act mostly resembling the entertainment industry. They have no formal education or experience in governance but they give an animated public discourse performance mainly for entertainment. Think of those parties as small theater groups financed directly by the state.

        Again nothing wrong for one supporting his/her own brand of public entertainment and the arts, but such small parties like KKE you mentioned as basically embedded in public life in perpetuity while fully supported by public funds. Yet they don’t provide what is needed of them in public life, rather they provide their own version on what they think is needed.

        Using the analogy of a consumer going to a supermarket to buy a certain brand of detergent, small Greek parties sell you not what you really want rather they sell you their own version of a homemade detergent that upon a closer examination is not detergent at all. They sell you “something else” while convincing you in the process that such “something else is good for you”. And as they say “Buyer Beware”.

      • It’s completely fine for us to disagree – my opinion is worthless as I don’t have a vote anyway – but I have to say I find it completely ludicrous to say that the only real option in this election is ND. PASOK is certainly no less a reasonable option; I know quite a few people who will be voting for PASOK tomorrow. I don’t agree with them, but they are just as completely convinced that they’re right as you are. Nothing wrong with being confident in your vote :)

      • o.k. Heidi. PASOK normally would be an option. But not in this vote as they have created this dependent relationship with Berlin. ND only appears as the only option after an elimination process. Now, if you want to see a coalition government tried and failed and after about a year still elect ND as the valid government, I guess that’s fine. But is completely unnecessary.

        If as all you English speaking commentators here keep telling us Greeks that this is a time to act, a coalition government is Merkel’s idea and prevents us from acting. If action is what you want and what we need, then a single party has to come in position of government. Every other country does the same. When was the last time Democrats and Republicans in the US formed a coalition government? Never, right? And you know why? Because a coalition government is a form of Tyranny which proud and free Americans would never accept. In our case a coalition government is Tyranny by Merkel. Same thing, different actors. So, if you are from the Land of the Free, please wish us the same.

        Thomas Jefferson once thought that the Greeks were an inspiration for a nascent American Democracy. Can we count on your reciprocation?

  4. If I may leave a comment on Stefanos Manos: I see the policies proposed by his party -DRASSI- as the only ones that seriously take into account the unemployed and their fate. Creating a pro-business environment, abolishing barriers to entry to all professions, abolishing the mandatory social security funds that steal employees’ and employers’ money would have an astounding positive effect in stimulating business activity and helping people stand in their own feet.
    Most other parties are simply trying to keep their old “clients” satisfied. Maintaining all the old habits, rules, regulations and barriers that keep special interests satisfied and essentially help them into stealing money from the common coffer. Manos has not been willing to play their game and has been thrown out of this system and ridiculed for many years, but his time may be coming now. I keep hearing positive comments about him from people I wouldn’t “normally” expect to.

    @Klaus Kastner: He was responsible for starting the Athens Metro, the new Athens Intl. Airport and the Attiki Odos Ring Road in 1990-93. It was also during his tenure that Greece’s telecommunications were first partly liberalized and cell phone operators were allowed to operate in Greece. He was also the one to insititute planning rules for the neighborhood of Plaka, in central Athens, which have helped it keep its old, traditional character.

    • You can’t elect people whose party can’t even make it to the Parliament.

    • What you say is quite similar to what I was told about Manos by different people. Maybe all that proves is that you and I are talking to similar people…

      It is quite obvious that liberal thought does not have a lot of followers in Greek politics of today. Strange for a people whose ancestors were the fathers of liberal and enlightened thought. Perhaps it’s because liberals are often (falsely) identified with cut-throat competition with no social solidarity. Perhaps the creative destruction which yesterday’s election has caused will set in motion a process where new alternative models of what kind of a society Greeks would like to have will be discussed in earnest. That alone would make yesterday’s election worthwhile!

  5. Pingback: Todos miran a Francia y Grecia | GUERRA ETERNA

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