Greek democracy

A chill for Europe and the world.

These Greek elections should teach us that new forms of political participation must be invented, writes Tzafalias [AP]

Sunday’s national elections in Greece, where the nominally far left party Syriza is poised to win, could actually change Europe and the world, but not for the reasons you think.

We have three scenarios to consider at the outset. Will Alexis Tsipras, the leader who took his party from the political hinterlands to centre-stage in the short space of four years, win an outright majority and form a government? Will there be a new coalition government? Or will the country need to go to elections again?

In this fluid political climate, it is not out of the question for xenophobic and ultranationalist Golden Dawn party leader Nicholaos Michaloliakos, currently held in pre-trial detention in Korydallos prison, to be asked to form a government.

And that is just the beginning. How will a new Greek administration, whichever form it takes, negotiate with Greece’s international creditors which include the daunting to many International Monetary Fund? And how will a possible Syriza victory inspire other countries and other electorates in Europe and the world?

Deep pool of questions

In this maelstrom of questions, there is a single point of reference and that is unstable too; the European Central Bank, the monetary, and up to a point, the fiscal nerve centre of the euro currency area.

Economy main issue in Greece election

In a world where the power of financial markets determines nearly all policy in nearly all nations, the ECB’s recent announcement that it will begin buying state and bank assets across the euro area (called quantitative easing stimulus or QE), brings a new reality to the table.

It is a move that came at the last minute in the hope of averting deflation and possibly kick-starting growth in the euro area.

And Greece must play by the rules if it wants to take a nibble of this new carrot and not keep feeling the proverbial stick on its austerity-slashed back.

At the same time, we see the Swiss franc exploding in value, the Russian rouble collapsing and the price of oil falling through the floor.

Market players are scrambling to find safe havens for funds or considering where to place their next lucrative bet. So this latest ECB move might amount to nothing much.    

So we come back to Greece itself.

Rich not getting richer

According to World Bank indicators, Greece is still a rich nation but there are clear signs of a drop in per capita income and a collapse in investment. These are trends that cannot easily be reversed, so things will get worse before there is a chance of them getting better. We also are witnessing a fall in environmental standards. Across Europe there is a trend for diluting or even scrapping environmental regulation to favour economic development.  

So how can a country such as Greece actually inspire others? Incidentally, one of the few countries that managed to avoid the so-called middle income trap and join the elite of prosperous nations was Greece, along with Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

So how can a country such as Greece actually inspire others? Incidentally, one of the few countries that managed to avoid the so-called middle income trap and join the elite of prosperous nations was Greece, along with Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

They all are struggling with their finances. A possible reversal of prosperity is something that countries like China, Indonesia and Malaysia are trying to avoid.   

Greek debt indeed again has become an international issue. One thing that Greece can do and one for which Tsipras should get the credit, is to call for a “European debt conference”.

The idea was taken up by Irish politicians, as their country is also suffering under loan programmes. The conference would address not only Greek and Irish debt but Spanish and Portuguese debt as well.

The IMF and its French chief Christine Lagarde (let us not forget French big business) reacted immediately, warning against such a move. To get an idea of the IMF’s mentality, one need only skim its report on Greece from last summer.

Loan conditions

Ominous loan conditions quaintly are described as “arrangements” and policy debacles as “falling short of targets”. It is the kind of language that would describe the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima as an “alternative peace implementation initiative”.

This possibility for change is why Greece has caught the imagination of activists around the world.  

In the restive Athens neighbourhood of Exarchia it is not rare to see “crisis tourists”, usually young men and women who dream of confronting the riot police to vent their rage before returning to the rule-of-law safety of their respective countries.

But when even the French far right leader Marine Le Pen openly supports a Syriza victory, something is wrong. Voter participation and membership of traditional political parties is falling across Europe, according to a report by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit for the BBC.

Democracy needs to change. One thing these Greek elections should teach us is that new forms of political participation must be invented or we shall remain at the mercy of nebulous “market forces” and those elites who know how to play a global game which is technocratic in name only. 

Menelaos Tzafalias is a freelance journalist and producer based in Athens, Greece. He has worked as an associate producer on the documentary “Palikari: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre”, a story about migrants and labour relations in early 20th century America.