David Barclay advocates a new approach to living together, grounded in localised ‘political friendships’.
Greece: the beginning and end of democracy
11th May 2012
New Democracy gave up within hours, Syriza within days. Now Pasok, Greece’s unpopular centre-left party is trying to form a coalition. (In fairness, no mainstream party is Greece is exactly popular. However, Pasok’s political dominance for most of the last four decades, culminating the meltdown of recent years, has earned it particular loathing.)
Pasok has 41 (of the 300) seats in the Greek Parliament. By comparison, KKE, the communist party, has 26 and Golden Dawn, the Far Right party that makes the BNP look like sandal-wearing, Guardian-reading vegetarians, has 21. People do not rate Pasok’s chances.
Suppose, however, they succeed. Suppose Pasok’s Mr Venizelos tempts New Democracy’s Mr Samaras into electoral bed. Even then their combined 149 seats would be short of a majority, quite apart from being precisely the same coalition that voters so firmly rejected in the recent election.
Bill Clinton once famously remarked of hotly-contested 2000 US election, “The American people have spoken. It is not yet clear what they said.” By contrast, in Greece today, although no clearer about their future government than America was in November 2000, the people have spoken and it is quite clear what they want.
They want to stay in the Euro. And they want to renegotiate the loan agreement that is keeping them there, by softening the spending cuts and tempering the economic reforms that are currently causing so much pain.
Actually, that’s underplaying it. The parties that benefited most from last week’s election are those who described the austerity measures as barbaric and who want to renege on the bailout agreement altogether. They want, in effect, to have their economic cake and eat it.
The fact that opinion polls show that in any new election, precipitated if Pasok fails to form a coalition, the likely winners would be left-wing Syriza, who promise to abandon the terms of the loan, merely reinforces the point.
The prospect of slipping even further down the electoral pole may concentrate Mr Venizelos’ and Mr Samaras’ minds sufficiently to form a coalition, which with support form the small Democratic Left party would just about command a majority. It would be a kind of Heath Robinson Government of National Unity, except for the unity bit. But even if that succeeded, it would be massively unpopular, implementing policies in the teeth of public opinion, which may not even succeed anyway.
Whether Greece (and the rest of Europe) would be any better off if the nation attempted an orderly default and exit from the Euro (which, under current treaty obligations, would also entail leaving the EU) is doubtful. And in any case the time for a planned and orderly default and exit it probably over (if it ever existed). There is no solution, still less an obvious, easy or painless one.
This whole grim saga points to the ends, or limits, of democracy. There was outrage, albeit somewhat muted, last October when then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced a referendum on the bailout deal just agreed, only for Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy to tell him to abandon it, which he duly did shortly before resigning. So much for the democratic voice of the people.
But what if the democratic voice of the people says something that is not only unrealistic but actually dangerous? What if the people, stung by the pain and humiliation of austerity whose roots lie in years of domestic economic mismanagement and tax evasion, embark on a political course that promises social chaos? What, in short, if the people’s voice is (whisper it) wrong?
Those who mistake the political mechanism (democracy) for the political solution (justice), cannot, of course, conceive of such a thing. A ‘wrong electorate’ is, as the logical positivists used to say of all God talk, literally non sense. It means nothing.
The political carnage of contemporary Greece suggests otherwise. No matter how rational we like to think ourselves, most people seem eminently capable of self-harm, and not just in the familiar meaning of those words. If people are, why not peoples?
Nick Spencer is Research Director at Theos