As 2016 approaches its end, the ruling coalition of SYRIZA – ANEL are completing two years in power. I think this is a good time to make an assessment of these two years and ask what are the prospects of Greece in this context. For the reader who is not familiar with contemporary Greek politics, SYRIZA is a self-professed party of the left, led by Alexis Tsipras – the Prime Minister of Greece – and ANEL is a splinter group of the traditional right which under the leadership of Panos Kammenos – the Minister of National Defence – was voted in Parliament and secured a deal with SYRIZA in order to jointly govern the country.
Let me start by saying that the politics of SYRIZA – ANEL are not my cup of tea. With very few exceptions, I do not like what I hear from them and I do not support it. Having cleared this, I am not of the opinion that they are useless or a disaster, or that their rule is going to bring the country to its demise.
SYRIZA – ANEL quite simply are very similar in their policies to the previous governments and cannot thus make any significant difference. There are differences, but in the overall context of the country’s problems, these are not significant. As an Greek politician of the left used to say, “there is no big difference between broccoli and cabbage”. On the ideological front there is a lot of talk about the Greek State and what a Modernization Program should do to it, but this is a lot of noise for very little.
As SYRIZA – ANEL are now solidifying their power base, the main opposition party, New Democracy, have elected a new leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to lead the party to new victories and power again. The issue here is that a new leader has not made the difference needed to regain power. Almost eight months after the election, New Democracy continues to be a tired, aged, boring party that has no new policies, faces, and initiatives to attract the voters.Even more importantly, the shadow of the previous Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, the nephew of the founder of the New Democracy Party Konstantinos Karamanlis, continues to be visible form all places and angles inside and outside the party, the best place being the Presidential Building, where its current inhabitant used to be one of the key friends and supporters of Kostas Karamanlis.
SYRIZA – ANEL may not be very good, or even they may be bad, but it appears that New Democracy in the eyes of many voters continues to be worse than the ruling coalition.
New Democracy continuously alleges that SYRIZA – ANEL lied to people about their political program and are now following a program that is more or less a continuation of the previous plan to repay the country’s debt and restart the economy. But its argument is very weak, because in politics the issue is how to gain and retain power. If you do that by allegedly lying to the voters, but the voters continue to support you, you have achieved your objective. It may not be the best of ways, but it is a way. New Democracy must realize that we all have had enough with accusations, allegations, about who is a liar, who deceived the people, and so on, and focus instead on creating a pragmatic agenda for the country. So far this has not happened.
We have arrived at the major problem in Greek politics today.
The political field is barren, devoid of the much needed change and new direction, and the voters are so desperate with the crisis, the ever increasing taxes and cost of life, that they are prone to believe what SYRIZA – ANEL are promising to them, even if these promises are obviously ridiculous, not to say lies, rather than lose all hope and resort to the New Democracy platform which is simply unappealing, weak and boring.
The significant weaknesses of New Democracy, the lack of any change of personnel in key positions, the lack of appeal to the electorate, provide SYRIZA – ANEL with the best opportunity to regroup and strengthen their positions, which is not hard to do given that the main opposition is so unbelievably weak.
In a nutshell, Greek politics is entering a period of stagnation, thanks primarily to the non-existent main opposition and the fact that some shrewd political operators in SYRIZA – ANEL are now focusing on and discovering ways to maintain power.
It is indicative of the situation that although three months ago there was intensive talk of new elections, as SYRIZA – ANEL were afraid of the rebirth of New Democracy under new leadership and popular discontent brought about by new hopes raised by a “reborn” party, all of this has today disappeared. SYRIZA – ANEL have realized that the giant of the opposition has legs made of glass and that the opposition have not been able to increase significantly their appeal to the electorate. In two words, there is no reason for SYRIZA – ANEL to worry about losing their power base. All they have to do is keep the boat steady and avoid a major hick up in their relationships with Greece’s creditors.
The main risk factor for SYRIZA – ANEL maintaining their power until the end of their term (September 2019) is the economy. Any miss-happening in the economy may destabilize the agreements with Greece’s creditors and create serious problems for the Government. It appears that nothing else can come close to having the capacity to create a crisis and lead the country to premature elections.
It is interesting to note that both on the SYRIZA – ANEL camp and the New Democracy side, the parties are supposedly unable to face reality and make some comments that might – to say the least – tempt even the most good willing voter to distance themselves. For SYRIZA – ANEL the government is fighting the good cause of Greece and this is basically it. They are also cleaning up the horrible mess of illegal transactions that characterized the previous regime. They bring an end to favoritism in public life.
For New Democracy they situation is similar. They are running a campaign to rid the country of a failed government. The problem for them is that SYRIZA – ANEL are in power, and New Democracy are not. And unless we have early elections, the “failed” government will continue to be in power.
The surprise in this may come from a significant change in the leadership style of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, that would make New Democracy appealing to the voters and might change the party. This is a long shot and rather unlikely.
Assuming the situation continues as it is today, the 2019 elections will be a political battle where all means and weapons will be used. The issue is that this will only answer the question of who is going to be in power. Most likely, unfortunately for the Greek electorate, the huge problems the country is facing will continue to exist, if not become even more urgent and pressing. And the horrible thing for Greece is that the political parties that can gain power will continue to have no clue as to what needs to be done. The reasons for this will be examined in another post.