Local politics

Now that the spotlight has turned away from the local and municipal elections and most of the partisan vitriol has ended, it would be worth evaluating the importance of local elections. Do local elections indeed succeed in furnishing local communities with substantial legitimacy? Do they reflect a direct form of democracy, as we tend to believe? Do they actually ensure a public mandate for the basic priorities of local communities? Or do they merely provide a carte blanche for four years, leaving the citizens with a bitter taste of powerlessness similar to that felt at parliamentary polls? A recent study conducted by the University of Thessaloniki at the behest of the Central Union of Municipalities and Villages (KEDKE) highlights that the level of public information and involvement in the crucial issues besetting local communities is actually lower than that enjoyed at national level. Citizens of municipalities say that they lack information on municipality issues, that municipality-owned radio stations function as propaganda tools in the interest of the local authorities, that contact with local administrators and candidates is at best superficial – so that they usually have to judge them on the basis of looks. The chasm is also reflected in the lack of correspondence between voting and the promotion of works that interest the citizens of the municipality. No such conclusion can be drawn from the feedback. By the way, the same occurs at a national level also, as the Olympic Games come last in what citizens see as crucial issues. Although a survey based on a sample of 2,000 people cannot fully account for the views and sentiments of the citizens across the country, it still defeats the impression that the local ballot has a more direct effect on politics than the parliamentary one. This distance between the vote and political decisions may be greater than at the national level, as local administrations prove to be far less transparent than the central one – with anything from recruitment to the granting of shop permits. Some 50 percent of municipality employees (a fourth of the sample) responded that their employment prospects depend on their relationship with the mayor. If we really wish to turn the local administration into a pillar of local democracy, we have to closely examine these conclusions rather than drown them in a tug of war about the political «messages» of the local elections.