Today is Election Day in Greece and, unless the polls are a greater waste of time than usual, the result will be a shallow victory for the center right party, Nea Demokratia, led by Antonis Samaris, which will gain the most seats in the Vouli (parliament) but not enough to form a government. Samaris has said repeatedly that he is not interested in a coalition government yet he will be given 3 days to form one. After that, the next two parties in the results rankings will be given 3 days each to form a coalition government. After that, there are a few elaborate and, dare I say, byzantine machinations to be completed before failure to form a government is declared and a new election is ordered. I have no idea how many times this could be repeated.
The people are angry and there is a lot of misinformation floating around the press and in the air. The last poll, conducted two weeks ago, indicated that as many as 10 of the 32 parties on the ballot could share power in the Vouli. Many of these are splinter parties, having broken off from the two main parties in the turmoil of the last 2 years, and a few are new, including the nightmarish Nazi party, Chrisi Avgi, or Golden Dawn. (Chrisi Avgi’s appeal is almost solely to anti-illegal immigrant sentiments, a chilling intensification of our own tea-bagging wing-nutery.)
This is the second election season I’ve spent in Greece and I’m jealous of Greeks in that they limit this lunacy to one month. The TV ad space is monopolized by back to back to back political ads and the news consists mostly of footage of speeches at political rallies but it’s tolerable when you know it’s only for a month. One of the huge benefits of our April-through-October schedule here is that we miss 6 months of the madness back in the States. Being here for elections also makes me wonder why we vote on Tuesdays. Wouldn’t Saturday or Sunday make more sense? Or are we trying to make it more difficult for working people to participate? Even this year, when refusing to vote is being used as a form of protest, the Greeks will likely have a much high turnout than we do. I wonder how much of that is attributable to our tradition of voting on a workday.
The voting in Sikya is taking place in a building on the beach that looks like a traditional house but appears to be used for little more than voting. Most Greeks vote in schools and, this being Greece, the nation’s schools are closed Friday and Monday so that the polling places can be prepared and then removed. When a person enters the polling place, he/she is given 29 sheets of paper and an envelope. The voter marks the sheet for the party he/she favors and puts it in the envelope. The other 28 sheets are recycled. Voter registration is 9.8 million. There are 6,300-some individuals up for election today. And somewhere in Greece there is a very happy, and likely very tired, printer.
The photo is of a poster for the Greek communist party. Having grown up in the States in the 50s, seeing communists openly politicking is a bit like running into the spawn of satan at Macy’s. When I see their rallies on TV, I still marvel that they look like regular people. In the 2008 election, the KKE got 3% of the vote — this time, they are projected to get 10%. The anger that has propelled some people to the far right has also fed the growth of the far left. These posters went up overnight on every lightpost in Sikya but before I could get out with my camera the next day, someone had ripped every one of them down. The communist guerrillas in Greece during WWII and the civil war that followed committed terrible atrocities against their countrymen, and there are obviously strong feelings about it still. The KKE is unrepentant, however, spouting lines so old and tired they sound like a B movie script. As a policy, they reject every law and regulation passed by the European Union, and they have already announced that they will not support the winner of today’s election, regardless of which party it is. The poster reads in part, “Out USA – NATO – EU – IMF” even though the US left long ago, with the exception of a navy base on Crete and the embassy in Athens.
The nerve-wracking part of this election cycle, however, is not who will win today but how the likely deadlock will be resolved in the days and weeks that follow. The interim government leaked a list of 77 items that the new government must complete in a month’s time to fulfill the requirements of the last financial aid package, and the very real possibility of a political stalemate makes it unlikely that any of them will be accomplished.