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Vera J. Frantzh | 06.07.2017
Panos Dodis | 05.07.2017
Georgia Drakaki | 05.07.2017
Nicolas Androulakis | 05.07.2017
The passive-aggressive vote
William Blackstone | 10.03.2014 | 02:00
Elections are coming up in the second half of May. Now these are local municipal elections and elections for the European parliament, but you cannot fool Greek politicians and their constituents: an election is an election is an election. They love to raise the stakes and vote like gamblers; they don’t care what they are voting for, as long as they win and the other guys lose.
I remember some years ago, an older friend who was a noted and well-educated member of Athenian society, told me that he always voted against the standing government in municipal elections, trying to serve a warning: we don’t like the way you are handling things, and unless you give us more tax breaks we are going to vote against you in the national elections, too.
New Hellenes either vote for some party or person (or against it) for various reasons of their own. It is a well-known fact that the “old” Peloponnesian country votes very conservatively, while the “new” territories, especially those that received most refugees in the 1920s, vote more liberally, even electing Communist representatives. Then there is always Crete, existing in a parallel universe where Venizelos is still alive and well, and threatening to secede from the Modern Greek State. Almost eighty years after his death, Cretans still vote for him.
Some habits have changed since 1981, when Andreas Papandreou came to power and rewrote the rule book on what is permitted, and who is what. One sad consequence of these particular Socialists’ rise to power was that Thessaloniki, which was always a progressive city vis-a-vis Athens, gradually turned conservative. For many decades the Thessalonikians voted against the Athenian establishment which was scorning and slighting their city; so when the establishment became Socialist, they voted against it too, especially on a local level, resulting in a string of lesser mayors whose only qualification was their conservative party membership. From 1987 until 2010, the New Democracy party ruled the city like a breakaway theocracy, aided by the local church.
The last conservative mayor of Thessaloniki, Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, is currently serving a life sentence for embezzlement. The court fixed the missing monies at 17.9 million euros. Papageorgopoulos’ defense was essentially to claim that he was too dumb to handle this amount of money, which may certainly be true but does not exonerate him, and one had the feeling that after many, many years of widespread corruption, the Samaras government had to show with some credibility that it was willing to come to grips with the problem. This was one of the two high-profile corruption stories of 2013, the other being that of Akis Tsohadzopoulos, also a Thessalonikian but a Socialist minister many times over, whose notorious alleged corruption dwarfs the mayor’s.
Corruption was one of the big stories of the last quarter century in Greece; another was the rise of socially accepted racism (called “nationalism”) which can be attributed to the dismal state of  primary education and to the steady influx of migrants, be they repatriated Greeks from the ex-Soviet Union and its satellites, or economic refugees from the Balkans (especially Albania), or poor souls from all over he world trying to get an entry into Europe via Greece.
This New Hellenic “nationalism” has manifested itself in the rise of what is essentially a fascist party, Golden Dawn, that is now under criminal investigation as a criminal organization specializing in extortion and intimidation to the point of murder. This party was draining away voters from the conservatives, and Samaras was trying his best to stop this leak, recruiting extreme conservatives from other parties and rewarding them with ministries and advisory positions, but with little effect.
Many gears have been set in motion and many plans are in effect with a single purpose, the next national elections of June 2016. This is when the elections should take place in a normal state, but this is the New Hellenic Republic, thank you, where the prime minister feels he has the right to call for premature elections at will, and the President --elected by the Congress, not the voters-- always concurs.
What is at stake in the May elections is not local government or European representation; what is at stake is the date of the next national elections. Syriza hopes to obtain a commanding lead and press for national elections, claiming the current government does not reflect the will of the people anymore, and making its hold on power untenable. New Democracy is fighting for more time to implement the changes dictated by Greece’s lenders, however very incompetently and imperfectly. All the rest are fighting for political survival.
According to the polls, there are two main blocks of voters running neck-to-neck, one for Syriza (the current opposition) and one for New Democracy (the current government, in coalition with what little is left of Pasok).  The conservative vote is split between the New Democracy party, the fascist Golden Dawn and the fringe Independent Hellenes. The liberal vote is split between Syriza, Pasok, Democratic Left (the isolated and ossified Greek Communist Party does not count among the liberals) and a host of newfangled parties that attempt to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Pasok (October 2009 elections: 43.925 of the vote,  June 2012 elections: 12.28%, projections for May 2014 elections : 4%).
One such party is called The River. It has no organizational structure, no clear agenda, no plan, no members, no money -- yet. Still, it has a projected 5.9% of the vote in the European parliament elections, because it is the brainchild of a media person, Stavros Theodorakis.
Stavros Theodorakis (not related to Mikis) a person who rose from the ranks and worked his way up to hosting a popular investigative show (however this is interpreted in fair Hellas) in one of he major private TV channels, MEGA. He used to be a Pasok adherent, years ago, but journalism was a better paying job. In the past quarter century, many people have crossed over from journalism to politics, usually with great success; but this is the first instance of an ex-journalist (and restaurateur, since he owns one of the more popular establishments in Athens) forming his own political party. Many voters, already familiar with his face, have warmed up to him and his vague rhetoric. Since they feel desperate, they have nothing to lose by trusting him.
The River is draining voters away from Syriza. If Syriza wins by a small margin, they will need this party to form a sustainable majority. If New Democracy wins by a small margin, Theodorakis can always claim he was instrumental in the Syriza defeat and claim his reward. Anyway you look at it, it is a shrewd business move.