OPINION

The vicious circle of elections

Talking about elections is like having a rash: The more you dwell on the issue the crazier it drives you. Even though only one year has passed since the last elections, the difficulties that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis faces have sparked expectations of a dramatic Cabinet reshuffle or even early elections. In such a climate, the production of ideas and policies stops and all that we have is political gossip, rumor and inertia. In other words, the problems that generate thoughts of early elections are only aggravated by talk of elections. But what solution would new elections bring? Who would gain from them? For Karamanlis, seeking a new mandate just one year after winning elections would have to spring from the acknowledgement that he could not control his party. Opinion polls, however, suggest that New Democracy would get an even lower number of votes if elections were held now. The result would be an even slimmer majority than today’s 152 seats in the 300-member Parliament and it might have to seek the support of another party in order to govern, or it might not even be the top vote-getter. So, under the present circumstances, it would be very difficult for Karamanlis to gain from snap elections. For PASOK, things are just as ambivalent: If it wins and finds itself with a majority in Parliament, or wins the most votes but does not have a majority, it will be fine. If it comes second, it will fall into a maelstrom of navel-gazing and in-fighting as the party will not be able to forgive its leader, George Papandreou, for another electoral defeat. The only parties that could benefit from elections in the near future are the small ones – the leftist SYRIZA and Communist Party, the right-wing LAOS and the environmentalists. But as the world is in such turmoil right now, many who sympathize with these parties might vote for one of the larger ones in a bid to gain stability. The small parties expect to win more votes in elections for the European Parliament that will be held in June, as this poll is customarily a referendum on the popularity of the current government. National elections before June would jeopardize their hopes for dramatic gains. For Karamanlis, the European Parliament elections are a huge problem and could be the most decisive factor in any decision to call snap elections. If New Democracy comes second in the Euro election, Karamanlis will come under unbearable pressure from PASOK and other opposition parties that will immediately call for national elections. How will he see through the rest of his four-year term when his party’s leadership has been undermined to such an extent? So what is the prime minister to do? It is not in his interest to hold elections now but neither can he risk being forced to do so under the pressure of an adverse Euro election result. What can the PASOK leader do when polls show that his leadership abilities are doubted and he knows that one more electoral loss will cost him his position? And what can citizens expect from balloting now when they have seen the results of previous elections held under better circumstances? For all these reasons, early elections harbor great risks for everyone. And yet, early elections seem unavoidable – even though no one expects anything good to come from them. There is even a risk that the winning party would be forced to call yet another election in a bid to increase its majority, bearing in mind that a more favorable electoral law will come into effect after the next poll. In other words, we might have three elections (if we include the European Parliament ones) within a short period. With the country facing so many major problems and with developments in the international economy completely unpredictable, we cannot afford the luxury of endless elections. Looking at the issue from all sides, the likeliest outcome of elections would be the winning party being obliged to form a coalition in order to govern. In which case, perhaps the solution to today’s impasse is very simple: The two main parties could cooperate in order to tackle the most important problems and then hold elections. But this would require our parties to abandon the complexes and polarization that has dogged the country for so many years. This would mean placing the country’s interests above their own (which self-interest has led to an impasse). Who would ever dare do this?