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Early Elections: Russian Roulette with an Automatic Weapon (Opinion)

Contribution by Etsi

Through his blatant dilemma/threat of support for PASOK candidates in regional elections, or else… early national elections, Prime Minister  Giorgos Papandreou is cranking up pressure on his party, the opposition, and the Greek people. Many are wondering what the PM has in mind, since elections, like war, are always a gamble that even the most powerful cannot be absolutely certain of winning.

At this time of grave economic hardship for the Greek people and the state, Papandreou has chosen a gamble that under any terms is sure to have negative repercussions, some of which have already reared their ugly heads. Already, according to financial information services company Markit, five-year credit default swaps (CDS) on Greek government debt jumped to 820 basis points from 800 bps on Friday (29 Oct.) and will continue to rise the more investors hear of elections.

But what can the PM and his host of advisors (paid with our taxes) possibly hope to achieve from this ‘blackmail’ as so many have called it? He is certainly aware that voters may in fact turn their backs on candidates backed by his party, as polls had shown. One aspect of his threat definitely, therefore, has to do with forcing disillusioned PASOK supporters to jump back on the bandwagon. This is his calculated risk.

In this he is making an assumption that has been debunked by political scientists since the late sixties. Simply put: the rational actor model does not hold. To assume that players in any game, especially politics, will act rationally is totally erroneous. People are swayed by emotion and by all those factors that Marx calls ‘superstructure’. Therefore the idea that voters will follow the rational precept that “you don’t change horses in mid stream” (i.e. in the middle of a huge economic crisis) is nothing more than wishful thinking. Factoring in that especially now, when the government is keeping all sorts of things from the public, and voters have no clear picture of the stakes, they cannot be counted on to make ‘rational’ choices.

Main opposition leader Samaras has called the ‘dilemma’ posed by Papandreou a bluff. If it is that it is already getting to be a very expensive one. But what if it is not? What if it a very real threat? Some have already stated that the heat is up because of the economy and Papandreou wants to get out of the proverbial kitchen.

To go to premature national elections, the PM will have to get the President of the Republic to dissolve parliament. No president has ever denied this of any previous office holders, but there can always be a first time. However, we have to assume that if Papandreou wants elections, the President will grant his wish.

National elections in 2007 cost the state over 115 million euros. This cost will be added to the cost of the elections for local government to be held this Sunday (7 Nov.). This is completely out of tune with efforts to curb spending. If elections are proclaimed they will of course have a very negative effect on Greek borrowing, as IMF officials have been pointing out anonymously. But the cost maybe far more onerous for Greeks since the polls may bear nasty surprises.

Even if PASOK wins such elections, there will a slowdown in the state sector, before and after, weakening efforts and measures being taken to bring the economy in line. Voters are also wondering if by giving Papandreou a renewed mandate, the Prime Minister will proceed with harsher and more onerous measures that he has been keeping a secret from the public. This is a very tangible fear as foreign media and pundits have been calling for harsher measures, debt restructuring, and even “controlled bankruptcy”. In and of itself this fear bodes ill for the governing party.

If PASOK does not win the necessary seats to form a government by itself, but remains first in number of seats, the country will experience a period of wrangling during which Papandreou will attempt to find a partner or partners to form a government. This may not be easy at all, since any alliance will require Papandreou to water his wine in terms of his austerity measures. Furthermore, there is a likelihood that no current party will want to ally themselves with a government that has taken such anti-popular measures.

In the event that there is a splintering of the Right through the establishment of a party by Dora Bakoyannis, Papandreou may have a shot at a quick fix through an alliance with her and the splinter group from SYRIZA, Democratic Left. However, this will depend also on how quickly elections are proclaimed, since Bakoyannis will need time to marshal her forces. Even if PASOK manages some sort of alliance, the viability of such a move is again a matter of some concern.

However, there is a very real chance that the ballot boxes will show no clear winner, and this will in fact spell total chaos. Continued electoral bouts will mean a constant drain on non-existent resources, a veritable halt on all efforts to bring the economy in to line, and a very real danger of a halt in all state disbursements. Beyond the economic disaster this will also precipitate a veritable humanitarian crisis as social groups already impoverished by the harsh measures (i.e. low paid civil servants and pensioners) will stop receiving any money from the state.

This was exactly the state the Greek people found themselves in after May 1941. The resulting degradation of the standard of living, at that time, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands in a single winter, precipitated the radicalization of Greek society as all social strata were reduced to the status of abject poverty. In turn, this fueled the rise of armed resistance.

One may argue that the people rose up against foreign invaders and their quisling puppets. Two things must be noted relative to this. First, there is a rising feeling on the street that we are in fact being ruled by the troika of our lenders with Papandreou as their puppet. Second, Greeks have had few qualms about rising against their own government in the past.

The open question then is: Quo vadimus?   (Where are we going?)

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