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.
Photo 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.