Greek party law?

I wonder if anyone knows what the party law is like in Greece. That is, what does it take to register a new party? Are joint lists of two or more parties permitted?

The question arises because in Sunday’s election, there was a clear coordination failure. Anti-austerity parties had a clear plurality of the votes, yet the two establishment parties combined to be one short of a majority of seats–on less than a third of votes.

With the huge bonus in seats–50 out of 300 total–there for the taking by whichever list is largest, the electoral law should provide a strong incentive to coordinate. One possibility is that the regulations on party and list formation work in the other direction.

33 thoughts on “Greek party law?

  1. I have two alternative hypotheses. First of all, I guess that coordination is more complicated is such volatile context. In fact, we know from previous studies that volatility is a deterrent of electoral coordination among voters. I think that the findings about parties are less developed, but they could work the same way. The second one is the traditional antagonism that has always existed between the two main left-wing “radical” parties (Syriza and KKE). The situation resembles what we see in Portugal between the “Bloco” and the Communist Party, although it’s true that Communists run with the Greens there. In either case, it’s curious that this happens in the two “Western European” democracies with the most old-fashioned traditional Communist Parties

    • Pedro, thanks. That’s what I suspect, actually–that it’s more ideological and uncertainty-driven, rather than inherent to laws on party formation. However, if it were the case that separate parties are prevented from forming joint lists, that could be a factor. I wonder.

      I would actually think that the dominating single issue of Greece today would have spurred coordination on the left, but the divisions on other things may simply be too great. Path dependency and all that…

  2. I think that SYRIZA itself is a coalition of several parties, althoug I don’t know how it is officially registred.

    I suspect that one of the big reasons for an absence of a coalition (even if a coalition between SYRIZA and KKE was difficult, a coalition between SYRIZA and their former dissidents of Democraticl Left should be more easy) is that, until a weak ago, nobody really thought that an anti-troika party being the first party was a realist possibility.

  3. Information for the Candidates, from the same source listed in my previous comment, states that:

    “Candidates may be nominated by voters in each constituency. The nomination should be made in writing and signed by a minimum of 12 voters. The person being nominated should accept his nomination in person or via his/her authorised representative. Candidates are also entitled to submit their own nomination in writing in person or via their authorised representative.

    No one may submit or accept a nomination in more than one constituency. The leader or president of a political party or coalition of parties is entitled, by way of derogation to this rule, to submit or accept nomination in two constituencies. The nomination should set out the name, surname, father’s name, position and precise address of the nominee.


    The nomination for each candidate should also be accompanied by a payment receipt for the sum of € 146.74 from a tax office.”

  4. Interestingly, IIRC not only Greece but also Spain and South Africa set a constitutional range of 300 to 400 MPs for their lower houses. The latter two set the exact number as 350 whereas the Greeks went for 300. Historical resonance, perhaps.

  5. The 64-dollar question, indeed. After seeing some flying comments in random discussions, I dug back into the URL helpfully provided by Manuel in another F&V planting about the Greek elections, which Google Translate barely manages to turn into English (quoted below). It seems pretty clear that the rule on how parties and coalitions benefit from the plurality bonus changed radically between the 2004 law and the 2007/8 amendment. To wit, the 2004 law says (Article 6, para. 2):

    2. The electoral formation that had the highest number of valid ballots throughout the country are granted in addition to the seats taken pursuant to paragraph 1, forty (40) even seats, which come from constituencies that have remained unallocated seats after completion the procedure laid down in Article 8.

    That is, the benefit goes to the party or coalition which gets the most votes.

    But the 2008 amendment modifies that paragraph to read:

    2.a. In the separate Party, which garnered the highest number of valid ballots throughout the country, granted, the additional seats shall, in accordance with paragraph 1, fifty (50) more seats, which come from constituencies that have remained unallocated seats after completion of the procedure under Article 8.
    The addition of a fifty (50) seats is also a coalition partner parties, if the average strength of parties, that constituent is greater than the power of the independent party, which garnered the highest number of valid ballots. The average obtained by dividing the percentage obtained by the above coalition by the number of its constituent parties.

    Or, in other words, “You’re a coalition? Hah, gotcha!” It’s surely not a coincidence that the only coalition in the parliament is Syriza, and that Syriza’s first big attention-getting success was during the 2007 election, just before that amendment was written.

    Still, there is an out, in case the authorities can’t bring themselves to actually enforce that rule:

    b. The First Department of the Supreme Court in Board at its proclamation of the electoral combinations rule, irrevocably, for the nature of each Party, as independent or as a coalition partner parties. The judgment formed without procedural limitations of existing data, which can be supplemented by a note of the political parties and candidates.

    I don’t quite follow that but it seems like the Court has some flexibility in defining what is and is not a coalition, albeit before the election starts.

  6. I’m not convinced that the election result was a failure to coordinate between anti-austerity parties (even leaving aside my previous plant). There is a majority of anti-memorandum parties; if the goal to “rip up the memorandum” were that important, there are a couple of party combinations currently available which add up to more than the minimum 120 for a lame-duck parliament, enough to make the gesture, at least. But I think that “honk if you hate austerity” only generates noise; some kind of alternative plan must be put in place. And it’s pretty hard seeing how such a plan could come out of, say, a Syriza-Independent Greek discussion.

    Moreover, at least two of the parties are simply not available for coalition building: one because no-one wants to talk to neofascists, and the other because it refuses to talk to anyone else, even though Syriza seems quite willing to work with one of Europe’s most conservative communist parties. (As an aside, I note that KKE has had the same leader since it’s last purge, 21 years ago.)

    But let’s suppose that none of the above were relevant. There is still a structural impediment to coalition building: the open preferential ballot. I’m personally pretty fond of open lists (as I’ve mentioned before) but they’re pretty destructive to coalition building because they make it impossible to horse-trade seats. A coalition negotiator would love to be able to offer particular seats to particular potential coalition members, but with open lists, it’s the voters and not the apparatchiks who get to decide the order of candidates.

    On second thought, maybe I didn’t mean “but they’re pretty destructive”. Maybe I meant “because they’re pretty destructive”. I haven’t yet seen a good reason for encouraging separable election coalitions in advance of an election: it’s fine to encourage parties with minimal differences to merge and adopt some form of internal democracy to resolve constraints; it’s cool to encourage parties to form tight governing coalitions once the electoral situation is clear; but the spectacle of loosely coupled one-term coalitions slowly unravelling over the first few months of a new government has completely lost its charm for me.

  7. Just to confirm my reading of the 2007 amendment to Greece’s electoral law, I managed to dig up a news article from December 14, 2007, in the English-language Athens News:

    In keeping with a tradition set by former Greek governments – to pass
    an electoral law from which it will benefit – the Karamanlis
    administration [New Democracy]
    has sent its own electoral reform bill to parliament.

    Another change to the law could best be described as a pre-emptive strike. It
    denies the 50-seat bonus to party coalitions.

    Reform, indeed. I think this sort of blatant manipulation of electoral law underlies the importance of supermajority requirements. Democracy cannot function in the abscence of a broad consensus about the impartiality of electoral law and procedures.

  8. I don’t know that a supermajority requirement would really help. One aim of the US civil rights movement which ran headlong into the US filibuster for a time was ensuring that African-Americans had the opportunity, not just the right, to vote. It seems to me that a better procedural idea would be requiring electoral legislation to go through a citizens assembly to ensure that the legislators do not get too great a chance to guard their own interests.

  9. The point of supermajority requirements is to prevent a party/coalition with a bare majority from modifying the electoral system in a way calculated to enhance its chances of winning future elections. Obviously it doesn’t affect party which has a supermajority but such a party is presumably less likely to fear electoral defeat.

    It might not have helped in this instance since the law in question was more about guaranteeing bipolarity (and more particularly the precise form of bipolarity which has ruled Greece since its return to democracy). But it is not at all clear that Pasok would have voted for it even though they are another potential beneficiary; they have generally favoured amendments which militate in favour of centre-left hegemony, perhaps on the theory that the left is more in need of coalitions than the right. Also, there would be little incentive for Pasok to alienate a party whose support they might need in the future.

    As the Athens News article I quoted says (and the title of MSS’s earlier post implies) fiddling with the electoral system to favour re-election is something of a Greek tradition.

    That’s quite different from the US’s civil rights movement, I think, although it has its echo in the US tradition of gerrymandering. (Indeed, like the Greek and Italian “winner’s bonus”, gerrymandering can also be viewed as primarily promoting bipolarity and thus discouraging new the entry of new players.)

    As I recall, the Voting Rights Act passed by a very convincing majority in both houses, so a supermajority requirement would have made little difference. I believe that had a lot to do with both parties putting pressure on recalcitrant representatives, and I wonder if a citizens assembly would have proven to be as committed to minority rights. It is certainly conceivable that a citizens assembly would have ended up opting for a “state’s rights” position.

  10. I wouldn’t prescribe a supermajority as the only way to change electoral laws (as some Eastern European constitutions did shortly after 1989 – Hungary, IIRC). But it might work if, as in Greece, the alternative path is a cooling-off period – that amendments passed by simple majority can’t take effect before, say, the next election held at least three [or four or five] years after their passage.

    This would avoid the problem of the US filibuster – where there was (and is) no “pressure valve”, no way for a majority (however long-term and persistent) to bypass a recalcitrant 40%+ rump of Senators. But it would avoid momentary spasms or targeted changes for short-term political advantage, by interposing a sort of Rawlsian veil of ignorance preventing the rule-makers from knowing whether their changes will favour their side in the short term.

  11. “It is being rumoured that Syriza may soon transform itself into a single party and extend membership to a far left group called Antarsia (which gained 1%) and the Louka Katseli group from Pasok which failed to gain seats, and the Eco-Greens, who polled below 3%. That would extend its reach even further, both to its right and left.” That sounds like the only possible strategy to be sure of the 50-seat bonus.

  12. If SYRIZA wins the popular vote and somehow ND ends up with 50 extra seats because of an electoral law they created to benefit themselves, I think Greece would descend into chaos/anarchy/revolution. Let’s hope that SYRIZA arranges it so that if they do indeed win, they’ll get the bonus. Polls aren’t particularly clear right now, as they all have varying methodologies and don’t seem to think it’s important to list the margin of error, and they’re wildly inconsistent. Marc/Alpha showed Syriza dropping 7 points in a week and ND gaining 3 points. The Metron poll also has Syriza having dropped about 5 points in a week, but has ND having dropped two. A third poll, by Public Issue and published in the centre-right E Kathimerini newspaper, has Syriza on 28%, far higher than anyone else has had them in the last ten days. This one looks like it’s going to come down to the wire, especially because I believe the law banning polling for the last two weeks is still in effect.

    Of course, SYRIZA wants to implement an almost complete proportional representation system, with no threshold and no majority bonus, so it looks like they want to continue the tradition of enacting laws which benefit the government. Under SYRIZA’s proposed system, I believe 21 parties would have won seats in parliament in the May election, the smallest getting just 16,000 votes of 6.5 million, including an anti-toll road party, the Pirate Party, the “Political Party of the Successors of Kapodistria,” and the coalition of the Communist Party of Greece (Marxist-Leninist) and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Greece, which are two separate parties from the main Communist Party of Greece, which is Marxist-Leninist.

  13. Chris, the list with the most votes will obtain the bonus, regardless of which one it is. And the election law can’t be changed before the election because (1) the Greek constitution does not allow changes in the election law to take effect that quickly, and (2) parliament is dissolved. Whether they could change the electoral law after the 17 June election depends, of course, on the balance of parties in that election. First they have to figure out how to put together a government!

  14. Chris, I just saw your comment at another thread that suggests that Syriza’s list may not be eligible for the bonus because it is a coalition of parties. You are right, if that is the case, it will be a volatile situation.

    I hope someone can confirm, either way.

  15. mss, I’m not sure that it is correct that the list getting the largest vote gets the bonus. The law, which I quoted in comment 9 above, seems to me to pretty well eliminate the possibility of a coalition list getting the bonus. Syriza is a coalition of about a dozen parties so the average vote share cannot be more than a few percent.

    Do you have some other information? The only English language comment I can find in the Greek press (see comment 11) seems to indicate that my reading is correct but it’s certainly possible that I’m missing something.

  16. Confirming Wilf’s comment above, Syriza has apparently filed a document with the Greek Supreme Court declaring that it is now a single entity. (Link in Greek; Google translate will turn it into a randomly ordered collection of English words out of which it is possible to extract some kind of sense.)

    I gather, from trying to read Greek media and blogs with the aid of G.T. — a corpus which ranges from the bewildering to the hilarious by way of the oracular — that the move is considered by some to be cynical since it “legitimizes” the electoral act which Syriza wants to change. G.T. can’t seem to deal with the word ??????????????, which is just transliterates as kalponotheftiko; it comes up a lot in articles on the subject. I’m pretty sure it means “electorally fraudulent” but I can’t figure out if it is being applied to Syriza’s tactic, the electoral law, or both.

    I did appreciate learning the Greek saying “God loves the thief, but he also loves the householder” (??????? ? ???? ??? ??????, ??????? ??? ??? ?????????) — in other words, “what goes around, comes around” — which was I Avgi’s concise comment on the possibility of Syriza winning the bonus. I Avgi (“The Dawn”) is a leftist daily newspaper which is currently more or less the Syriza house-organ although according to Wikipedia it goes back to 1952. It shouldn’t be confused with the Hrisi Avgi (“Golden Dawn”) which is the monthly house organ of the nationalist party of the same name.

    [MSS note: Clearly, Word Press has is issues with Greek, too!]

  17. “The first party to emerge from elections gets a 50-seats bonus. Parties registered as coalitions cannot receive this bonus, unless they get double rates from the first registered party. Example if nea Dimocratia gets 30% of the votes, SYRIZA will have to get 60% to be granted the 50-seats bonus. SYRIZA considers to be registered as a party for June-17 elections.”


  18. It does appear that SYRIZA will be declaring itself to be a single party. If this actually changes anything about the coalition’s organization, or whether it’s simply a ritual to ensure it can comply with the law to get the 50 bonus seats, I’m not sure. They’re supposedly in talks about cooperating with Antarsya (a leftist anarchist party as far as I can tell) and the Greens, but whether this would be possible under the “new” Syriza party, I don’t know.

    The DISY Democratic Alliance chose to disband, and its leader, Dora Bakoyiannis (daughter of former PM Mitsas) will be rejoining New Democracy as the head of its national list. Several of LAOS’s former deputies have also joined or rejoined ND.

    Drasi and Dimiourgia Xana are forming a coalition for the election, under the name “ReCreate Greece Coalition,” as a liberal pro-European group. The Liberal Alliance will also be supporting them, but won’t have candidates on the list, apparently because its candidates got very little support in the May election while sharing a list with Drasi, but also because DX’s leader did not like the Liberal Alliance’s leader’s gay rights advocacy. The two lists got 4% of the vote between them, so if they can hold that, they will enter the Vouli and likely be a key part of ND’s attempts to form a government if it receives the mandate. A 20 May poll by Public Issue and Kathimerini had Dimiourgia Xana on 3%, while merger talks were happening but before it was officially announced.

    Basically this is all starting to look rather like a circus–probably the highest-stakes circus in world history.

  19. Question: do people vote for parties within a coalition or for the coalition iteslf?

    The law would make more sense if the rule was:

    “Though parties are part of a colaition, they may only qualify for the 50 seat bonus if:

    a) the party itself wins a plurality of votes; or
    b) the coalition wins two times the votes of the highest rated party.”

    So in my view if SYRIZA (now considered one party) forms an electoral allicance with the Greens. Does it forego the bonus, or does it still get it if SYRIZA itself beats ND in votes.

    This would obviously require voters to select a party and not the coalition itself.

    If this is the case, then I assume the only benefit to an electoral alliance is to pick up votes from parties which may or may not cross the threshold independently.

    • Nick, these are good questions and points. I understand the lists to be open, which means that a voter could have a choice of different party’s candidates running in his or her district, but not vote for one of the allied parties per se. But some district magnitudes (M) are very small (even M=1 in several cases) and I do not know if there can be more than M candidates on a list. In other words, many voters may have little effective intra-party or intra-alliance choice.

      I am not sure whether the preference vote is required, or whether the voter may give a vote solely for the list. If the latter is allowed, my understanding is that it would only affect the vote totals of the list itself (i.e. the coalition, in case of a multi-party list), and not affect the order in which candidates are elected from the list or the balance of party strength inside the alliance.

      I hope I got that right.

    • Indeed Syriza is now a “party” rather than a “coalition”.

      There was an interview on BBC with Syriza’s economic adviser earlier this week. The interviewer asked him about some Syriza leader’s recent comment about leaving the euro–the party’s official policy is to remain in the eurozone. The adviser responded that the person who made that comment was the leader of one of the former parties in the alliance, but now Syriza was a single party! So, by implication, inconvenient statements by leaders of former component parties no longer apply.

  20. MSS, Nick: Some clarifications about Greek voting (from the Google Translate edition of the 2004 election law, see link in my planting above)

    1) Parties/coalitions can (but are not required to) present slightly more than M candidates in an M-member constituency:

    M+2 if M <= 7
    M+3 if 8 <= M <= 12
    M+4 if 13 13 but I think the law must say M>=13.)

    2) The preferential vote is not ordered, and it’s entirely optional; it’s like the Peruvian system where you have up to N votes for M candidates, all in the same list. In Peru N is the smaller of M and 2 (i.e. 2 unless M is 1), but in Greece it’s more complicated:

    1 <= M <= 3: N = 1
    4 <= M <= 7: N = 2
    8 <= M <= 12: N = 3
    13 <= M: N = 4

    In Peru, you have to cast your preferential vote by candidate number (and even so the ballots can be quite big).

    In Greece, each list has its own ballot papers, which has the name of the coalition/party (and, if a coalition, all of its member parties), and then a list of names, normally in alphabetical order. There is no indication of party membership in the case of a coalition list.

    When you go to vote, you're handed an envelope and a sheaf of ballot papers by the poll officials; you go into a voting booth and select one of the papers, tossing the rest into a wastepaper basket which is inside the booth. If you wish to, you may then mark a cross beside up to N names on the selected ballot before putting it into the envelope and dropping the envelope into the ballot box. (I might have some of the details wrong but I think that's the general idea.)

    That voting procedure does have something going for it, compared with the Peruvian method. For one thing, it makes it totally clear that you first vote for a list, and then optionally indicates your favourite members of the list. In Peru, I'm told, many voters still attempt to cast their preferential votes for two candidates in different lists. At least, that's one of the commonly recurring objections to the open-list system as implemented in Peru. Certainly it seems that Greece has far fewer spoiled ballots.

    Also, apparently (this isn't in the 2004 law but I did see it somewhere), the party leader is exempt from the preferential vote, having his/her name printed in larger type at the top of the list of candidates. So they will get a seat as long as they run in a constituency where the party wins at least one member. And, moreover, they may run in two multimember constituencies, and then decide which of these to accept if they win in both.

    Sorry about the excruciating detail in a planting: I have considerable interest in open list systems, as I think I've mentioned before.

  21. rici: as far as I’m concerned, hurrah for detail – If only gov’t and electoral commission websites did the same as you!

    The Greek system (which I think is also used in France) does seem a bit wasteful to me if those unchosen ballots are thrown away. So on a procedural note, are they ever returned to the electoral officers for possible re-use?

  22. JD: As far as I know, no: the unused papers are simply wasted. Anyway, reusing them wouldn’t help because if you print ballot papers before the election, you have to print at least one for every potential voter, just in case.

    In theory, you could print ballots “just in time” — say, by putting a photocopier in every booth, or even a laser printer preloaded with each original. But if you were going down that road, you might want to simply go for electronic voting. (I personally favour evoting with a paper trail, which is not much different from just-in-time ballot printing, but in either case, you’d need strong guarantees that secrecy could not be violated.) I fear this is drifting very far off-topic.

    Oh, and thanks.

    • What JD said.

      I share rici’s fascination with open-list systems, so all this detail is extremely valuable. Thank you!

  23. I see huge problems with just-in-time ballot printing, such as a corrupt government that believes just-in-time means when they discover they are losing after the polls close.

  24. Cheers for responses. My question is answered now. Basically, there is a real disincentive to be listed as a coalition, if you feel you have a shot at the bonus.

  25. Pingback: The dismantling of SYRIZA? | Fruits and Votes

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