The power of the X

If we were to dig deep into the causes of the present crisis, we would come across two factors that have played a catalytic, if not destructive, role over the past 20 or so years: the X on the ballot and television ratings.

An individual’s vote sounds like something very democratic because it ostensibly gives the citizen the right to select a Parliamentary representative. But, the X becomes a heavy burden to bear for anyone whose career exclusively depends on it. A minister’s anxiety to be re-elected, for example, renders him hostage to the fear of the cost of any unpopular decision or measure. Only a handful of Greek politicians have dared ignore the hunt for more votes and make unpopular decisions. And the truth is that the few who had the guts to say what others didn’t dare ended up marginalized, tagged as being too extreme or even ludicrous.

In contrast, politicians who clearly contributed to the bankruptcy of the country by appointing cronies to key positions, doling out favors, squandering public money and committing other such offenses, have been lauded by their “patrons,” who continue to vote for them.

Whether we like it or not, the vote normally goes to those protecting their “clients” or those who are famous for raising a stink on television.

And here lies the second malefactor: So many Greek television shows have elevated absolute nobodies to the status of expert and have given too much air time to politicians who like to see a conspiracies and disasters all around, and who can’t seem to have a coherent thought. Criticism of this brand of gutter press is met with the usual argument that it is shows like this that push up the ratings.

True as this may be, we shouldn’t then wonder why Greece has been unable to get its affairs in order or to implement any reforms on time. We shouldn’t wonder why as the people express their determination to stay in the euro and battle the odds with great fortitude, there is a force like a powerful magnet pushing them toward the drachma and toward isolation.

Is there a solution?

On the matter of the X there is and at some point we will have to adopt it. The German electoral model, for example, ensures a proper balance between MPs elected at the ballot box and others appointed on the merit of their skills. Another solution would be to prohibit MPs from also serving as ministers so there is no conflict of interest between their two posts.

There are plenty of solutions and, if anything, the Greek people have displayed maturity and patience with the situation. But for things to turn around, we also need the right leadership in every crucial sector of public life, because the only way to go from here is up.