Jan 232015
 

Everyone is angry/worried/excited/happy (delete as appropriate) about the prospect of Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the radical left-wing Syriza party, becoming Prime Minister of Greece, while the man himself has begun to treat the election as a mere formality. But is such an outcome even likely? The most recent polls have given Syriza a lead of two to ten percentage points over the centre-right New Democracy party, which is currently governing in a coalition with the (much reduced) centre-left Pasok.

Τσίπρας photoPhoto by 0neiros

While the number of undecided voters is still very high (in the range of ten per cent), the pattern is very consistent: ND has not been leading in a single poll taken since last May. Being the strongest party is significant, as it would give Syriza the 50 seat bonus that is still enshrined in Greek electoral law.

Party Percent Seats
Syriza 32.5 95+50
New Democracy 26.5 77
Potami 5.8 17
Golden Dawn 5 15
KKE 5 15
Pasok 4.4 13
Independent Greeks 3.4 10
Social Democrats 3 9

(based on latest GOP poll)

But even so, it is unclear if Syriza reaches the 151 seats that are required to form a government. The results of the last GPO poll translate into just 95 + 50 seats for Syriza. That’s with the newly formed Social Democratic party of former PM Papandreou scraping past the three per cent threshold. But even if the Social Democrats don’t make it, Syriza would need 34 per cent (about the highest level of support they have so far achieved in the polls) to win 151 seats. Only if the slightly erratic Independent Greeks also poll less than three per cent, 32 per cent of the vPhoto by 0neiros ote will be enough to give Syriza an outright majority of the seats (tactical voting, anyone?).

Otherwise, they will have to find a coalition partner. The communists (KKE) have firmly ruled out the prospect of any cooperation with Syriza, while Tsipras has declared that he does not want to work with the left-liberal (?) Potami. As of now, other coalitions look even less likely, so this may well end in a hung parliament.

Jan 202015
 

Authorities in the Saxonian city of Dresden have issued a blanket ban on marches, demonstrations and outdoor assemblies following alleged islamist death threats against the founder of the “Pegida” (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”) movement, who has masterminded the mass demonstrations in Dresden for the last three months. This is a highly unusual development by German standards, and political reactions from the very left to the very right have been predictably negative (for very different reasons). More specifically, the issue will help to further strengthen the ties between Pegida and the (eastern sections) of the AfD.

Dresden photo

Dresden: This is not a mosque

Meanwhile, social scientists are slowly trying to get a grip on Pegida. One of Germany’s leading scholars on social movement and protest mobilisation even dares to make a prediction: Dieter Rucht thinks that Pegida is past the zenith of thPhoto by Polybert49 e attention cycle, highlighting interesting parallels to the Occupy movement. Another interesting point (not discussed in the linked article) is that even after three months of mass mobilisation, Pegida has not managed to become a national movement. By and large, it is still very much focused on Dresden, which has been a hotspot of right-wing mobilisation for the last 25 years. And by the way, the beautiful building in the picture is a former cigarette factory build in the oriental style that was popular in Dresden a hundred years ago or so. Go figure.

Jan 182015
 

With all that is going pear-shaped in the world, you would be forgiven not to be aware of the latest instalment in the Great Greek Political Drama Series. It actually had a rather long lead: The current president’s term was coming to an end, and Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the radical left opposition faction Syriza had made it clear from at least last summer that he would use the provisions of the constitution to bring down the current centre-right/centre left coalition government.

How was that possible? After various defections, the current government is supported by 156 of 300 MPs, still a workable and reasonably stable majority of 52 per cent. But although the office is largely ceremonial, electing a new president requires a super majority: two thirds of the MPs in the first two rounds or 60 per cent (180 votes) in the third and final round.

greek parliament photoPhoto by ARKNTINA

That alone is an unusual arrangement, as a surprisingly large number of European states does more or less well with unelected ceremonial heads of state (think monarchy), while many others are content to elect the chief figurehead by run-off or simple plurality rules. In Greece, parliament is dissolved instead (and to add insult to injury, a simple plurality is sufficient to elect a president in the new parliament).

Given the current state of the polls, the most likely outcome of the election on January 25 is a hung parliament: the government will lose its majority, but Syriza will probably find itself without a coalition partner and will not be able to govern alone even if they win the bonus awarded to the biggest party. Moreover, the small “Democratic Left” party will probably be wiped out, and various independent MPs will lose their seats. The right-wing “Independent Greeks” and the neo-fascist “Golden Dawn” are also poised to suffer (less dramatic) losses. On political grounds alone, the continuing until 2016 should have been preferable to an early election for any MP to the right of Syriza, not to mention the decline in personal circumstances for those who will lose their seats.

The 25 independents acting in unison alone could have prevented the election. And yet, only 168 MPs voted for the government’s candidate, 13 more (or perhaps 15 more – this is confusing) than the government’s own voting bloc but 12 less than required to prevent the election. So the others either have privileged information about the outcome of the election, value principled opposition higher than political outcomes and personal welfare, have silently defected to Syriza, or have received some side-payment. Or they are irrational. Your choice.

Dec 212014
 

I am pleased to be able to inform you that the editors are happy with the revisions you made to your article and we can now proceed to publication.

I could not agree more. The revised article will appear in 2015, possibly rather late. Meanwhile, the author’s version of my piece on Germany’s Alternative party (which shows, amongst other things, that the AfD has positioned itself very close to the governing CSU (or vice versa?) is available here.

Dec 132014
 
Dec 112014
 
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Dec 072014
 

Various news outlets reported this afternoon that there had been talks, perhaps even agreement between the (state) CDU and the (state) AfD to prevent Ramelow from being elected Minister-President. Obviously, nothing came out of this (neither party put a candidate on the slate), but still: Wither the blessing of the leadership, Merkel has created a cordon sanitaire between CDU and the AfD. Talks with the intention of forming a coalition, or at least gaining AfD support for a CDU minority government would be an act of open rebellion.Thuringia photoPhoto by Tjflex2

Dec 072014
 

On Friday, the state parliament at Erfurt voted in Bodo Ramelow as Minister-President of Thuringia. He is the first member of the Left party to hold such an office, backed by the first ‘red-red-green’ (Left/SPD/Greens) coalition ever. 25 years after the fall of the wall, that is still a highly controversial constellation. Ramelow has been trying to diffuse the issue for months, and kicked off his reign with an apology to the victims of the former socialist state party SED, the pre-predecessor of the Left. His election also marks the end of a 24-year-spell during which the state’s Christian Democrats held the top executive job in this state.

The real significance, of course, lies beyond the woods of Thuringia. Taking over the office of the Minister-President is perhaps the most important step in the long game of normalising the Left that began in the mid-1990s, when the PDS (the predecessor of the Left) tolerated a red-green minority government in Saxony-Anhalt. Normalising red-red-green coalitions, on the other hand, is even trickier business. The Greens merged in the 1990s with what remained of  the East German dissident movement, and this legacy makes any co-operation with the heirs of the former oppressors highly unpleasant. The SPD, on the other hand, has two swallow the fact that at least in Thuringia, they are no longer the strongest force within the left camp. Moreover, the SED was the result of a forced merger between the East German SPD and the east German communist partner, and the final ingredient in today’s Left was a group of SPD dissidents who broke away from the SPD ten years ago. That is a lot of shared history overshadowing the present.

From the SPD’s point of view, however, there is clearly a ray of sunshine to this story: The SPD is now part of 14 (out of 16) state governments and has 9 Minister-Presidents amongst their number, four more than the Christian Democrats. That certainly makes governing as Merkel’s junior partner in Berlin a little more bearable.

bodo ramelow photoPhoto by DIE LINKE. Thüringen