Institutional boundaries

By Alexis Papachelas

No workable state can afford to have more than one legitimate government. Too bad the intensity of political debate and the good-old habit of so-called “structural opposition” are posing a real threat to the quality of Greece’s democracy and institutions.

If we are to judge by recent comments from leftist politicians, it will not be long before Greece’s main opposition comes out and says that it will not recognize a president that has been approved by the country’s Parliament. This form of politicking is dangerous and sets Greece apart from the European norm.

To be sure, all sides are responsible for the over-the-top political posturing and the chronic absence of a reasonable level of cross-party consensus on some basic issues. That said, there has to be an institutional boundary, a limit that no one holding a key institutional position can cross.

It is no excuse that George Papandreou presented the same behavior as leader of the Socialist opposition in 2009. In fact his antics should be viewed as an example for today’s political playersv. Rather than adopting such obsolete tactics to polarize the voting public and galvanize their electoral base, Greek politicians should know that it was these tactics that are, at least in part, to blame for the country’s lingering woes.

The leader of the opposition cannot claim to have veto rights over the next central bank governor nor threaten that he will refuse to recognize a president elected by the current Parliament.

At the same time of course, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras should extend an invitation to Alexis Tsipras to discuss big, delicate issues such as the country’s policy in Thrace, Greek debt talks, and ways to safeguard the political system against nascent forms of entangled interests.

Such a move would certainly be welcomed by a public tired of vacuous, polarizing discourse. It would also bring society closer to the democratic model of the West, where different sides exchange heated arguments and accusations but at the same time manage to hammer out deals on crucial issues, often behind closed doors.

Greek politicians have often overstepped the mark in the past and the country has paid a hefty price for this deregulation of the political system. We should keep all this in mind and demand more responsible behavior from our politicians. Otherwise we might see Greece degenerate into a third-class democracy inside the eurozone.