It’s time for the Greek body politic to grow up 

It’s time for the Greek body politic to grow up 

Living in the USA I miss certain regular signs that mark life in Greece. Early in March, sometimes too early, the almond trees will blossom, announcing the start of spring. In September or early October, the swallows will fly south announcing the coming of fall. And two years after a government is elected, there will be calls by the opposition for new elections because the government has “lost popular support.” Sometimes even the prime minister himself will opt for early elections in order to receive a “fresh mandate due to new national challenges.”

This is not how serious politicians and mature democratic systems work. I cannot think of another well-functioning democratic state where such nonsense take place. Elections are costly and disrupt the life of the country. Additionally, knowing that the government’s term will be only about two or three years results in politicians thinking more of their imminent re-election campaign and not the government work they need to accomplish. Like it or not, a party is elected by the people for a four-year term; unless the government loses a vote of confidence, it should stay in power for the whole term. 

But, one would argue, the people changed their mind. First of all, we don’t know how accurate polls are; as pollsters themselves say – I have heard them more than once on Greek TV – “this poll represents how people feel today; results might change in the future.” Additionally, what if the people changed their minds six months or even two after the elections? It is totally irresponsible for the opposition to ask for early elections when the government has not lost a vote of confidence.

Still, I am not willing to let the governing party off the hook. The idea that a government needs a “fresh mandate” is also nonsense. Why is a mandate fresh 18 months into a four-year term but “old” after 23 months? But, one would argue, the country is facing major problems with Turkey etc. Is this new? Greece has been having crises with Turkey since the 1850s! When the Greeks elect a government, they are well aware that some kind of crisis with Turkey, or from a different source, might occur sooner or later; the people elected a government to deal with such crises. It is totally irresponsible for the government to resign and call early elections when it has not lost a vote of confidence.

Observing from a distance, I have come to believe that the Greek political system keeps improving. The last good development was decoupling the election of the president with the survival of the government of the day. Now we need to move forward and achieve two more reforms: 1) a permanent electoral system – enough with the political games of proportional representation vs something else; we should agree on a system and stick with it; and 2) a four-year term means four years; it is time for the Greek body politic to grow up.

A note on recent developments. It was with pain that I watched the fires in Greece and the distraction and heartache they have caused. My heart goes out to the people and to our country. I have no idea what went wrong, what can be done better etc. I’ll leave that to others. I will only make this observation. Recently Greece decided to spend billions of dollars to rearm our military. Hard as it is to spend money on arms rather than other causes, I can understand the need; we have a constant, clear and present danger from Turkey. We also have a constant, clear and present danger from fires. Whatever else we do, we need to spend serious money to prepare.

John A. Mazis is a history professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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