A pointless battle

The public closely watched the first act in the three-part drama of Parliament’s election of a new president yesterday. The result was below the expectations of the New Democracy-PASOK coalition government, especially as SYRIZA and other opposition parties – wrongly – turned the election of a president into a vote of confidence in the government. This, of course, has always been standard practice for every opposition, at least until a compromise is achieved.

This process of so-called consensus in the past tended to make presidents of politicians whose careers had ended without any particular distinction, such as Costis Stephanopoulos and Karolos Papoulias. That is, of course, beside the point.

What is to the point is that the government once more dragged itself behind the political strategy drawn by SYRIZA and ultimately linked the election of a new president to the stability of the country, arguing that failure to vote in a new head of state will lead to absolute chaos. The government believes that if it wins the battle of president, it will crush SYRIZA and be allowed to complete its four-year term despite the problems it has controling its lawmakers, both in ND and PASOK.

But the dynamic that the government so wanted to display was nothing short of lackluster in the first round of voting yesterday as it gathered just five of the additional 25 votes it needs to secure a super-majority. With the clashes between Greece’s parties at fever pitch and given how they have escalated over the past few weeks, any MP who is not part of the governing coalition and who votes in favor of the government’s candidate, Stavros Dimas, over the next two rounds faces a serious risk of being accused of being bought or blackmailed. That is the worst position they could be in, especially given that there was a way to handle the whole affair a lot more delicately. New Democracy and PASOK could have simply put forward their candidate without over-dramatizing the consequences if the needed majority was not secured, leaving SYRIZA to stir the pot of panic. This would have made it much easier for independent MPs inclined to vote for Dimas to actually do so.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has expressed confidence that Parliament will elect a new president, an opinion shared by the majority of the public, according to opinion polls. But, if the country does end up going to the polls, the coalition parties will have lost a battle, one that was long and pointless, and which exhausted everything they had in their arsenal. In the meantime, the destructive war will continue.

So the issue may not be whether Greece is heading toward European integration or toward a revolutionary rift with the European establishment, because the new political landscape that we are seeing evolving right now is very reminiscent of the Stone Age.