Obliv­i­ous to dan­ger

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Un­less some­thing pretty spec­tac­u­lar hap­pens, Greece is at risk of go­ing through a ma­jor ex­per­i­ment in po­lit­i­cal an­thro­pol­ogy over the next few years, hav­ing to learn whether the coun­try can be gov­erned un­der a sys­tem of sim­ple pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Greece has never man­aged to func­tion un­der such a sys­tem with­out end­ing up in trou­ble and even­tu­ally look­ing for pow­er­ful lead­ers and other elec­toral mod­els. Greece has never had the cul­ture of con­sen­sus found in north­ern Eu­rope and lo­cal pol­i­tics has al­ways been a zero-sum game. The politi­cians of old were more ex­pe­ri­enced and knew how far the coun­try could fall, yet they re­peat­edly made a mess of things be­cause they could not com­mu­ni­cate. To­day’s politi­cians are un­aware of the risks in­volved and their game is all about crush­ing the op­po­nent. In­sti­tu­tions, mean­while, are used as tools in this game of power. Now we are likely headed into the most toxic and po­lar­ized elec­tions that Greece has seen since the restora­tion of democ­racy af­ter the 1967-1974 dic­ta­tor­ship. Chances are that there won’t be a shred of con­sen­sus left on the shat­tered po­lit­i­cal land­scape the day af­ter. There are also, of course, prac­ti­cal is­sues in­volved. Let’s con­sider lo­cal gov­ern­ment. Any­one who has sat through a mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil meet­ing in a ma­jor city can be ex­cused for think­ing that they’re watch­ing some tele­vi­sion re­al­ity show rather than a meet­ing of elected of­fi­cials. Shout­ing, vi­o­lence and chaos are all in a day’s busi­ness for ex­trem­ists and ev­ery de­ci­sion is in­flu­enced by myr­iad petty in­ter­ests. A lo­cal strong­man can im­pose his point of view with­out caus­ing too many waves. Un­der the new sys­tem, though, the coun­try’s next may­ors will know that it is math­e­mat­i­cally im­pos­si­ble for them to form a ma­jor­ity on the coun­cil. The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to put a pos­i­tive spin on its true in­ten­tions and make vot­ers be­lieve that some­how we’ll turn into Swedes overnight. The cyn­i­cal truth is that they be­lieve this will help them crush the can­di­dates of the op­pos­ing New Democ­racy and PASOK par­ties on a lo­cal level. They think they will fight among them­selves and not run in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, if they take place in May. A pretty in­ge­nious idea in­deed. The only prob­lem is that it will cre­ate chaos in lo­cal gov­ern­ment and cit­i­zens will be left won­der­ing why no one’s pick­ing up the trash or the streets aren’t be­ing prop­erly lit. The sim­ple pro­por­tional sys­tem is also in the pipe­line for na­tional elec­tions and if the in­creased ma­jor­ity needed to change the elec­toral law back into the cur­rent sys­tem is not found, it will be hard to avoid po­lit­i­cal tur­moil. Cer­tain in­tel­lec­tual friends of mine in­sist that this change will be good for the coun­try be­cause par­ties will be forced to co­op­er­ate and seek con­sen­sus. I don’t know where they get their op­ti­mism from, but I hope they’re right.

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