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Greece’s two-party system obituary has been printed long ago

16 November 2010 / 12:11:16  GRReporter
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The political system of none of the countries that had the IMF hurricane has survived in its original form, says Professor Athanasios Diamandopoulos in an interview with Anastasia Balezdrova. "It's difficult to figure out the triumphant look of Antonis Samaras after the elections," the political scientist expressed his surprise, analyzing the local elections results. He graduated from law, political science and philosophy. He is lecturer at the Pandio University and visiting professor at the Institute of Political Sciences in Lille, France. He is a specialist in political parties’ theory, party and electoral systems and in the Greek political life during the 20th century. He has been a contributor to many publications as a political commentator and analyst. Author of many books on government, political parties and contemporary politics in Greece.

Mr. Diamandopoulos, how would you comment on the election result?

Firstly, I would say that there was not only a feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of voters, but also tiredness, abandonment of all hope. It is clear that Greek society has no great expectations of today's political system not only with regard to both parties. One of them, the today ruling PASOK, in an attempt to deal objectively with the very difficult conditions and face established ratios is very natural to have made some mistakes while managing so a complicated situation. New Democracy’s contributions are as follows: firstly, its unsuccessful government until recently and the too unreal and populist nature of the proposals of its today leadership. As part of the Greeks are well prone to easy solutions that delayed and even overturned the spectacular jump down that the party made in the last year's elections. But in no way it helped the party to have a major presence especially in those layers of Greek society, which are of high educational, cultural and financial level and have always been its spine. And it is typical what became clear from the first electoral round. While the traditional rival PASOK has lost 10% of electoral strength, New Democracy not only lost in absolute terms, which could be explained by the high rate of inactivity and the nature of the elections. New Democracy lost in rates. This shows its total inability to benefit from the loss of image by the government.
From this perspective, the two poles of the two-party system were somewhat neglected, although in the second round, which is anyway bipolar, they managed to retain their drops. The ruling party could register a small tolerance of society to its politics and position. But on the other hand, the so-called "parties of opposition" had no good results. The two parties that had decided to move along the edge of the system – the far left LAOS and SYRIZA – also reported dissatisfaction and failed to gain anything from the loss of the two major parties. So, only the Communist Party was left as the pole that attracted not discontent but hopelessness. It was supported by voters who do not to seek any other way out but by those who see no way out and their votes expressed their pain from this. I think basically this is the result of the two electoral rounds: total rejection of the political system and the fact that society has no stored hope.

What do you think are the causes of such high rates of electoral inactivity, which yesterday reached 60 percent?

In my opinion there are several reasons for inactivity. We could say that one of them is the nature of the elections and that we didn’t vote for government, the important issues were not put under question. It is clear here the motive is not sufficient.
Secondly, I would put the new generation’s way of thinking which is very far from politics. I think the vast majority of my son's generation did not vote. And that is because this generation has not been formed in a period of intense politicization, as in the years before and after the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, a period of great expectations. This is a generation that has sarcastic perception for politics and attitude of rejection. It is a very individualistic generation that does not expect anything from politics.
Thirdly, I would mention the reduction of political system clientelist reserves. Many of the citizens that joined party initiatives before and especially managerial ones did it to satisfy their own interests. It was a kind of mixing up between the voter and the ruling party, through which people were expecting an appointment in the public sector or private gain. Nowadays, that expectation no longer exists, especially in terms of supervision by international institutions and foreign creditors.   
Fourthly, it is a picture of a society that has no hope at least with regard to the expectations of the political system. And it does not go to vote because of its absence. I would like to mention an example: In all individualistic societies, where attention is not focused on common action, but only on individual development, participation in political life is insignificant. This can be seen very clearly in the political life of the USA, where participation in elections is always poor. Common action there has never been in the foreground. Rather, society has individualistic attitudes. I think we are turning to this. This phenomenon became more prevalent in Greece in recent years, especially under the pressure of the economic crisis.

The Athens and Thessaloniki municipalities did not elect the candidates of New Democracy, as expected. What were the reasons?  

First, there was an rapprochement in Athens of the majority of people who are in the central left part of the political spectrum. I want to recall that many functionaries of SYRIZA that did not support George Kaminis in the second election round were publicly against that party decision. His candidacy was such that it managed to attract central left voters.
Secondly, New Democracy has no good results at the community helm for a period of 25 years. This is especially true for the last Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis. Suffice it to mention that the mayors of New Democracy were greatly candidates for the post of party leader during all these years. They were dealing much more with their personal political rise than with the problems of Athens. In this line of thought, I believe that Athenians showed their dissatisfaction with the mandates of all previous mayors of the capital in the face of Nikitas Kaklamanis.   
Something similar happened in Thessaloniki. Although Costas Giulekas was a very good choice as an individual party's candidate, he paid for the unsuccessful ruling of the current mayor. Moreover, the fact that his candidacy had concentrated the most reactionary parts of the church in northern Greece, which caused voters withdrawal, and the personality of his opponent made the two candidates so close to each other.
This is beyond the logic of Thessaloniki and northern Greece, where voters traditionally are more conservative. This time, the intervention of the religious nationalist factor was very obvious, extreme and provocative to the extent to cause convergence of all conflicting societal trends around Yannis Boutaris, who was not party candidate of PASOK. His personality was able to blunt the contradictions between elements of the left that united against the opponent Costas Giulekas, who probably took unfair the burden of the recent mismanagement of the municipality.  

New Democracy candidacy has proved unsuccessful in the battle for Attica because Vassilis Kikilias failed to gain even the votes the party had gained in the past elections. The opposition lost the elections in the Peloponnese region, where the birthplace of the leader of the party is. These were New Democracy two betting candidates, but personally Antonis Samaras’ too. How would you comment on these losses?

I think you described it properly. It is hard for me to understand the somewhat triumph of Mr. Samaras during his yesterday's statement. His two personal choices were strongly rejected by voters. But not just the fact that the party received the votes of only 20% of the voters in Attica, where one third of all voters in the country vote for a candidate who was a personal choice of the leader. We must take into account the fact that even in New Democracy rout during the last year's parliamentary elections, when the party appeared to voters and said "Come on, vote against me because I can not deal with the problems", the only area where the difference with PASOK was not so great was the Peloponnese region. Even in three of the five subregions – Messinia, Laconia and Argolis – New Democracy led the vote last year.
Consequently, I can not understand this almost triumphant tone of his statement when he could not win even in the region, where he withstood in the last year’ hard loss and with the personal intervention of the party leader in the political game in the Peloponnese and the symbolism he himself attached to it. If he himself has not made these two races so personal he might consider that he gets out of the elections stronger. Moreover, there is the great advantage that he took leadership of the party in its historical nadir and there was no room to bring it back. But it's hard to figure out how he would remain the undisputed leader of his party when he lost the main elections and his tone is so sloganeer and populist.  

Do you think these losses would cause changes in New Democracy?

I think Antonis Samaras has one advantage despite everything I said so far. And it is that there are no leadership personalities in New Democracy. Dora Bakoyannis is no longer in the party. Dimitris Avramopoulos was repeatedly ignored and will no longer glow as he did in the past, I even think that he was actually just a picture.
And the next generation is just the next generation. Aris Spiliotopoulos, Kostis Hatzidakis and Kyriakos Mitsotakis could be able to criticize, but I think they won’t be able to fully question the present leader of the party. Furthermore, the party LAOS wasn’t particularly successful in the elections which favoured Antonis Samaras to some extent to be able to specify where the lost supporters have gone. So, I believe that even if there are voices against Antonis Samaras he will hold until the next parliamentary elections.

Dora Bakoyannis will found her party the next Sunday. Two former members of New Democracy have already announced that they will support her. Do you think that others will follow?

Ms. Bakoyannis has already announced, though not specifically, that another 3-4 members of New Democracy will follow her. The good election result of the candidate she supported in the race for the region of Crete, the fact that some of her positions are accepted well and above all the high percentage of the electoral inactivity suggest that she could have certain expectations. She was involved in the old and exhausted political system, of course, which the voters rejected, but no one has fallen from up above. And she is perhaps the only one from the right wing that has the courage to show and highlight some of its weaknesses that continue to dominate the New Democracy. I think she will be able to survive.
Two-party system is still strong in Greece, but beside the party of Dora Bakoyannis, we have another new party - the Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis. For the first time there will be two parties beside the two main parties that will not reject the possibility to participate in coalition government. If polls show that voters do not reject the possibility of coalitions, then this scenario is not ruled out to additionally push Dora Bakoyannis by joining functionaries from New Democracy to her party, who tend to participate in government. And this is something the opposition party is not yet ready to claim.  

Is there room for another right-wing party on the Greek political stage?

You see, the obituary of the two-party system in Greece has long been printed, but we see that it survives. Maybe it has seven lives. On the other hand, the political system of none of the countries which had the IMF hurricane has survived in its original form. It is not excluded Greek society to stop hovering between the two major parties and seek various policy proposals, a more realistic tone and not so narrow political space. In this case, today's conditions perhaps allow something similar to happen. Consider how radically the political system in all countries that had the IMF has changed – they went bankrupt or both occurred. Let’s take for example Turkey. Most of the political parties that existed until the early 21st century remained outside the parliament. I do not think Greece will witness such tectonic earthquakes, but the small changes that society makes in the political system could allow Dora Bakoyannis to implement her plan. Moreover, she starts with a model that was not so productive in the past but it worked out in the case of George Kaminis. And it is the breakthrough in the social classes of the highest cultural, educational and financial level. The combination of a rhetoric aimed at better educated Greeks and a traditional mechanism which is developed throughout Greece could possibly help her to survive politically, thus contributing for a radical change in the conditions and operation of the Greek political system.

Tags: Election resultsTwo-party systemNew DemocracyDora BakoyannisAntonis Samaras
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