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Some notable candidates in the upcoming elections
Premature Elections
William Blackstone | 21.01.2015 | 01:21
The New Hellenes are going to national elections prematurely once again, this coming Sunday. Although electoral law stipulates that elections should be held every four years,  the last mature elections in Greece took place in March 2004. Since then, the average lifespan of a government is roughly three years – even less, if you count reshuffles. As Peter Arno would say, This is a hell of a way to run a railroad.
 
 
There is a clause permitting the Prime Minister to call for new elections whenever he chooses, for “reasons of national interest”. This has to be approved by the President, who agrees on the justification the Prime Minister presents.  So far, no President has ever contradicted the logic of any Prime Minister who asked for premature elections on the vaguest and flimsiest of pretexts, the usual justification being “a critical  time in the negociations for the reunification of Cyprus”, or even simply revising the budget.
 
The real reason behind calling for premature elections is, of course, opportune timing. The Prime Minister exercises this right when he feels he can prolong his tenure now instead of exhausting his term with dubious chances of being re-elected. It worked most of the time, too; no-one who called for premature elections ever lost them, until Karamanlis Jr. in October 2009.
 
These upcoming premature national elections are different from the past because they were not wanted by the government, but forced by the opposition. This happened because of the premature presidential elections.
 
In Greece, the President is elected every five years by the Parliament, not the people. This was the design of Karamanlis Sr. who wanted to control every aspect of politics, and could not trust the electorate the vote the way he wanted. (The Greeks should be grateful that he even allowed for a President in the Constitution he drafted as Prime Minister in 1975, since he made no provision for a Senate.)
 
The history of presidential elections in the past forty years is more or less smooth and predictable, with a few notable exceptions. One was the 1985 election, when, in an unprecedented act of political duplicity, then Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou assured the incumbent President Karamanlis Sr. that he would be his candidate of choice until the very last moment, whereupon Papandreou introduced the surprise candidacy of Christos Sartzetakis (he won).
 
This was a turning point in Modern Greek politics, for the worst. The two principal political actors never trusted each other again, and with good reason. Papandreou got his payback when Sartzetakis (the prosecutor in the “Z” case) proved to be an inflexible and narrow-minded nationalist who tried to forge and impose an agenda of his own. Papandreou amended the constitution as soon as possible in order to strip the President of most of his remaining duties, reducing him to an insignificant figurehead.
 
Still, a President is required by the constitution, and has to be elected by a majority of two thirds of the deputies (200 out of 300). If this majority is not reached, another vote is held. If it is not reached for a second time, a third vote is held, requiring 180 votes. Failing to reach this number, parliament is dissolved and new elections are held within a month. (This is what happened now.) After the elections, the new parliament starts voting for a new president at the 180 mark, then 151, then what the hell, a simple majority will do, can we please stop voting now?
 
This practice has had one net result so far: whatever party has the majority (151+) in parliament when the time for presidential election comes, usually proposes a bland candidate from the ranks of the opposition so as to ensure that the enlarged majority (200 or 180 out of 300) will be reached and elections will be avoided.
 
The first person who countered this practice was George Papandreou Jr., (affectionately known in Greece as GAP) in 2009, when he stated that his opposition party (PASOK) would not vote for Prime Minister’s Karamanlis Jr. candidate, Karolos Papoulias (a PASOK member and an old and trusted friend of Andreas Papandreou) in the first presidential election, in order to force national elections, but would vote for him afterwards. Karamanlis Jr. called for premature elections in order to avoid this embarassment, lost them and subsequently Papoulias was elected president.
 
Papoulias’ term was due in March, but Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called for premature presidential elections in December. No-one is sure why exactly he did this. The more plausible theory is that he was pressed into it by the country’s lenders, who saw his popularity on the wane and wanted to know as soon as possible who they will be bargaining with in the new year. Then again it is entirely possible that Samaras thought he would be able to muster 180 votes out of this parliament, when his coalition government had only 162 deputies (in the end, he managed just 165).
 
Samaras did not even bother to choose a candidate from the left, so as to present the opposition deputies with a moral dilemma. All in all, it was an act of political suicide, and a very arrogant and flamboyant one. The opposition, led by Alexis Tsipras, saw this as a rare opportunity to force premature elections at a timing of his own choice rather than the Prime Minister’s, and force he did. Tsipras and his SYRIZA party will probably be the winner in Sunday’s elections, but will get enough votes to get a majority of 150+ and form his own government, or will he be forced to form a coalition government with some lesser players -- and at what cost? Five days before the elections, all bets are off.
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