Consider the following scenario: It’s October and the leftist-led government has failed to reach the revenue targets set out in the bailout agreement, prompting Greece’s lenders to demand fresh cuts to salaries and pensions. At least three SYRIZA and Independent Greeks (ANEL) MPs refuse to back the measures during a vote in Parliament. The government coalition collapses, triggering elections. New Democracy wins the vote but without achieving an absolute majority, even by working with one of the smaller parties. What would happen?
A fresh election would have to be called, but, again, no government would emerge even if ND garnered 40-42 percent of the vote – unless of course conservative chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis were to cooperate with leftist leader Alexis Tsipras in a coalition government that would see Adonis Georgiadis sitting next to Theodoros Dritsas.
Surreal as the scenario may sound, it is a likely one if elections were to be held with the system of proportional representation now being put forward by the government. In order to understand its impact on the political power balance, one must take a look at the following facts: SYRIZA now has 145 seats in the 300-strong House, while ND controls 75. Under a system of proportional representation, SYRIZA would hold 114 seats and ND would hold 90 seats. In other words, Tsipras would need more than just the support of ANEL, his current nationalist partner, to form a government. The party of Panos Kammenos would elect 12 deputies (up from 10 in the current Parliament).
If Tsipras has a strong desire to change Greece’s electoral law it is because he wants to make it impossible for New Democracy to form a government without SYRIZA in it.
That said, there is another, often neglected, byproduct of introducing a proportional representation system.
The glue that kept New Democracy as well as PASOK together was the bonus seats that the electoral systems of the past 40 years awarded to the top vote-getter. That bonus (whether it was 30, 40 or 50 seats) discouraged MPs from leaving the party fold if they happened to disagree with the party line. It also explains the failure of the various splinter parties (DIANA, DIKKI, Political Spring, LAOS, KIDISO and so on) to go it alone.
A proportional representation system would deprive parties of this political glue as the number of seats that a party would win in an election would be proportional to the amount of its support among voters.
This would encourage the creation of new parties by politicians who believe they can beat the 3 percent threshold to establish their own little business (and, of course, get the state funding that comes with it).
This brings us closer to Tsipras’s ulterior motive, which is nothing less than to create the conditions that will lead to a split in New Democracy. He knows that a significant number of senior conservative politicians would be tempted to create a purely right-wing party without Mitsotakis’s “neoliberal” politics.
One might ask: Isn’t SYRIZA running the same risk considering the critics who deem that Tsipras has come to terms with the “neoliberal” memorandums? Sure it is. But Tsipras reckons that the pool of center-left voters in Greece is traditionally bigger than that of their center-right counterparts. And even if SYRIZA were to break up, Tsipras would still be a key player for several years to come.
Those who find these scenarios outrageous probably fail to have noted yet another byproduct of the proportional representation system. Once it is introduced, it is very hard to ditch. The reason is simple: None of the minor parties that actually benefit from the system would ever vote to give it up.
Is Tsipras so irresponsible and, more importantly, relentless that he would allow Greece to slip into a period of abominably unworkable government coalitions or political chaos? It is up to readers to answer that question.