Greece can breathe a sigh of relief: there will be no snap general elections. With the votes from Sunday’s local polls still being counted, Prime Minister George Papandreou has decided that his government has enough support to carry on trying to prevent economic meltdown and keeping to the tough targets set by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Most people will feel a weight lifted of their shoulders that was placed there when Papandreou issued the surprising threat/challenge that he would call a parliamentary election if the outcome of Sunday’s vote indicated that PASOK did not have a mandate to continue. But the result was hardly what Papandreou referred to in his late night televised address as “confirmation that those who voted for change [in general elections] last year still want that change.”
That may, or may not, be the case but when PASOK has seen its share of the vote nationally, according to Public Issue, drop by almost 10 percent compared to last year’s national elections, its clear that fewer people have faith in Papandreou and his party. The projections indicate that PASOK gathered only 2 percent more of the vote than New Democracy, compared to 10 percent last October.
The fact that close to 40 percent of voters abstained, in what was set to be a new record, is also a blow to Papandreou’s credibility. It leaves a huge question mark hanging over the result of Sunday’s vote and is evidence of the lack of enthusiasm amongst the electorate following months of austerity measures. But, perhaps more importantly, it seems to underline that people are uninspired by the political options available to them.
There are two things in Papandreou’s favour. The first is that the low turnout can be interpreted as reluctance by voters who have been cowed by the economic difficulties they are facing and are waiting to pass judgment on the government in national elections, not local ones.
The other is that New Democracy – the party that led the charge of the “anti-memorandum” front – actually got a slightly lower share of the national vote than it did at the ballot box in the last parliamentary elections. Examined in the cold light of day, this is a shockingly bad result. Faced with a government that has had to impose the most unpopular measures ever seen in modern Greece, an administration whose capability has been questioned on a daily basis and riding the surfboard of populism by claiming to be able to wipe out Greece’s deficit in a year, the conservatives have managed to convince fewer people than they did when they had apparently hit rock bottom last year.
So, this has been a lose-lose election for the two big parties. The Communist Party (KKE) has fared well and the two other parliamentary parties, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) have had some middling to good results. It is hardly a seismic shift on the Greek political map – the control of most municipalities and regions will be decided next Sunday in run offs between PASOK and ND candidates – but some tremors are being felt. The ultimately unsuccessful run of independent Yiannis Dimaras in Attica on an anti-memorandum platform did enough to show that someone with a modicum of talent, imagination and charisma could make some political headway with his/her own party. Dimaras, who indicated that he might be considering running with the idea, is not that man.
Finally, amongst all the losers on this election night, there is something else to consider – the biggest losers of all are the voters. Their chance to pick suitable people to run their municipalities and regions, the men and women who take vital decisions about the neighbourhoods we live in, has been completely overshadowed and usurped by a political sideshow.