Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Greece goes back to the polls

Greece, a country seriously economically damaged by the Global Financial Crisis, has been forced into an early election after the Greek Parliament failed to elect a President. Under the Greek Constitution, the President is expected to win three-fifths of the vote in Parliament, or 180 votes, to be elected. If no candidate wins 180 votes in Parliament, an election is held. My previous post on Greece provides some background.

The term of office of the incumbent Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, has recently expired, and the Greek Parliament must therefore elect a replacement. The table below shows the current balance of power in the Greek Parliament.
Balance of power in the Greek Parliament. Click on the picture for a close-up
The government consists of the New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist (PASOK) parties. This coalition has 155 seats in the Greek Parliament. This is 25 votes short of the majority needed to elect a president.

One candidate was nominated for the presidency: New Democracy member Stavros Dimas. At the first ballot, Dimas recieved 160 votes. This is the votes from the coalition, plus 5 independents. The remaining members either voted 'present' or abstained.

At the second ballot, Dimas recieved 8 more votes, but was still short by 12. At this point, government members were furiously lobbying members of potentially friendly parties, like Democratic Left. However, the third ballot resulted in a failure by Dimas to recieve 180 votes. Three ballots are allowed before an election is called.

Who will win an election?

At present, the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) is leading New Democracy in the polls by 4-6 points. Under Greece's electoral law, the party with the most votes wins a 50 seat bonus. This means that SYRIZA will be the largest party by a comfortable margin  if these polls are correct. However, with undecided voters in polls included, they have a relatively low vote (below 30%), meaning that they may not win a majority, or even come close. 

Out of all the other parties, SYRIZA have few friends. New Democracy and PASOK think that they are too leftist and anti-establishment, they are hated by the far-right in Golden Dawn for being leftist, and the Communists hate them for some reason to do with ideology (it's complicated). As a result, there may be some effort by members of other parties to tactically vote for New Democracy to stop SYRIZA. This may also mean that even if SYRIZA are the largest party, they would be unable to form a government.

It is worth pointing out that Golden Dawn's polling has recently dropped somewhat, and it has returned to the levels of the last election. The Independent Greeks vote has also dropped dramatically from the last election.

Now, the New Democracy polling has stayed much the same from the last election. And there is no way of telling where the Golden Dawn and Independent Greeks vote is going (as far as I know). However, New Democracy's leader, Antonis Samaras, was very confident in nominating Dimas, a politically polarising figure, for the office of President. If he didn't want an election, it would be possible to nominate a consensus candidate with the support of the independents. Instead, he may have it all planned out. It still seems like an odd way to solve a governability crisis.

After an election is held, a presidential candidate can be elected with a simple majority. This means that the government after the election will be able to chose the president.

Golden Dawn appears to have peaked, and is unlikely to win more seats at this election. Independent Greeks will likely lose seats. PASOK will also probably lose seats, even if they do disguise themselves as the 'Olive Tree' like in the Euro-elections. Democratic Left will be wiped out. The River , a centrist liberal party formed by journalist Stavros Theodokrais, will gain seats, and may be useful in supporting a pro-Euro government.

In short, this election is unlikely to improve Greece's political and economic stability. Any election will worry investors, and the possibility, however remote, of a SYRIZA victory will scare them even more.

For those who found that depressing, here are some goats playing on metal sheeting. Have a happy new year, readers!

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