Electoral games

The announcement of plans by the prime minister yesterday for changes to Greece’s election law create a difficult political crossroads. The plethora of ambiguities, unresolved questions and alternative solutions proposed on various issues leave no room for any final conclusions. Even political experts find it hard to fully understand the distribution of parliamentary seats that will emerge from the various possible results in light of the current correlation of forces. Nevertheless, one can clearly discern the motives of the architects of the proposed system. Marking a shift toward a more proportional system, the new election law (regardless of its final shape) will make it harder to form a one-party government. In other words, the winning party will need a bigger vote difference from the second to enjoy a weaker parliamentary majority. Secondly, the new system will encourage the formation of party alliances, as the new measures strip the existing law of counterincentives. Finally, by introducing a double-ballot system, the proposed law will enable the supporter of one party to vote for a deputy belonging to a third party, allowing for osmosis between ideologically kindred parties. These three fundamental reforms highlight the political reasoning underpinning the new election system – passing from the era of one-party governments to an era of coalition governments and shifting the weight from the PASOK-New Democracy confrontation toward a more favorable (the premier seems to think) battleground between the broader center-left and the center-right. No one questions the prime minister and PASOK leader’s right to choose what he deems the most suitable strategy for his party. Other European countries saw similar initiatives to form a pluralist-left force, but the results were poor. In all these cases, however, the coalitions were grounded on program convergence and were not manipulated top-down by governments experimenting with the election laws. A law must not be voted in for reasons of political expediency but to secure the smooth functioning of democratic institutions. The premier must explain why the country will be better ruled by coalitions of parties which have so far proved unable to agree on the most rudimentary of issues. Also, he must explain why changing the election law is so crucial during an electoral period, when so many pressing problems still remain unresolved.