Where Greece is, constitutionally & democratically

The process since last Sunday’s election in Greece is playing out exactly as detailed in the constitution. In other words, for all the hand-wringing about a possible second election, the constitution precisely contemplates such a contingency. From Article 37:

1. The President of the Republic shall appoint the Prime Minister and on his recommendation shall appoint and dismiss the other members of the Cabinet and the Undersecretaries.
* 2. The leader of the party having the absolute majority of seats in Parliament shall be appointed Prime Minister. If no party has the absolute majority, the President of the Republic shall give the leader of the party with a relative majority an exploratory mandate in order to ascertain the possibility of forming a Government enjoying the confidence of the Parliament.
* 3. If this possibility cannot be ascertained, the President of the Republic shall give the exploratory mandate to the leader of the second largest party in Parliament, and if this proves to be unsuccessful, to the leader of the third largest party in Parliament. Each exploratory mandate shall be in force for three days. If all exploratory mandates prove to be unsuccessful, the President of the Republic summons all party leaders, and if the impossibility to form a Cabinet enjoying the confidence of the Parliament is confirmed, he shall attempt to form a Cabinet composed of all parties in Parliament for the purpose of holding parliamentary elections. If this fails, he shall entrust the President of the Supreme Administrative Court or of the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court or of the Court of Auditors to form a Cabinet as widely accepted as possible to carry out elections and dissolves Parliament.
* 4. In cases that a mandate to form a Cabinet or an exploratory mandate is given in accordance with the aforementioned paragraphs, if the party has no leader or party spokesman, or if the leader or party spokesman has not been elected to Parliament, the President of the Republic shall give the mandate to a person proposed by the party’s parliamentary group. The proposal for the assignment of a mandate must occur within three days of the Speaker’s or his Deputy’s communication to the President of the Republic about the number of seats possessed by each party in Parliament; the aforesaid communication must take place before any mandate is given.
*Interpretative clause: As far as exploratory mandates are concerned, when parties have an equal number of seats in Parliament, the one having acquired more votes at the elections, precedes the other. A recently formed party with a parliamentary group, as provided by the Standing Orders of Parliament, follows an older one with an equal number of seats. In both these instances, exploratory mandates cannot be given to more than four parties.

(The president is selected by parliament for a fixed term of five years, according to Articles 30-32.)

Constitutionally, it seems there is no other solution but to have another election, now that the leaders of each of the three largest parties have proven (as expected) unable to form a majority-backed (or majority-tolerated) government.

Democratically, it also seems that there is no other solution. One senses hand-wringing in all the media coverage of this past week’s playing out of the Greek constitutional process, with phrases such as the “failure to bridge the gap” repeated over and over. Actually, the failure is with the troika so far to convince a majority of the Greek electorate that it has a solution to the country’s current troubles.

As discussed at length in a previous thread, an electoral system rigged to ensure the largest party a substantial above-proportional share of the vote very nearly turned a a combined vote share for the two old (and formerly opposed) establishment parties that was under one third into a parliamentary majority. The election results show that the old center-right New Democracy won 18.9% of the vote and 108 of the 300 seats, with 50 of those coming from the plurality-boosting provision. PASOK, the old socialist party, won 41 seats on 13.2%. But the key word there was “nearly”; ND and PASOK combined for 149 seats, where a majority is 151. All of the other parties that won seats are, to varying degrees, opposed to the troika agreement, their disagreements on tactics and other issues notwithstanding.

Moreover, the close second place finish of Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left), with 16.8% of the vote–but only 52 seats–may imply a failure of anti-troika Greek voters to realize that a plurality for this formerly marginal party was even possible.

Additionally, over 18% of Greek voters selected parties that fell below the 3% threshold. That is a lot of wasted votes.

And turnout was only 65%.

Given all this context, a second election, in addition to being constitutionally mandated given the impasse, is the only democratically acceptable outcome.

In the event, it may be that the establishment-boosting provision in the electoral law comes back to bite the establishment on the posterior. Polling now suggests that Syriza could win over 25% of the vote in a new election. This would allow the radical left to win the 50 bonus seats on top of its proportional share of the remaining 250. That could mean 110-115 seats, putting it in a strong bargaining position to form an anti-austerity coalition.

The election likely would take place on 17 June. Of course, this could be a very, very long month for Greek politics, and maybe ND, PASOK, and other like-minded parties will yet win the argument.

I take no position here on what is the correct policy for Greece to get out of its current economic and social debacle–that is an area in which I am not qualified. However, giving Greek voters a second chance to coordinate on either a pro-troika or anti-troika set of parties makes more likely that the resulting government will have an actual mandate.

4 thoughts on “Where Greece is, constitutionally & democratically

  1. My first ‘seed’ here–just want to say I think your blog is an amazing resource, and I hope you keep up the good work.

    Several internet sites I’ve seen seem to suggest that as a coalition of several parties, rather than a single party, SYRIZA would be ineligible to receive the 50 seat bonus. Does anyone know if the law states anything specific about whether the bonus goes to the list with the most seats, or whether it is specifically awared to a single “party”? If it’s the latter, I would expect some party reorganization to take place before 17 June.

    I’m also seeing a “pro-European” alliance being proposed between ND, PASOK, DISY, and Drasi, though the proposals seem to be coming from the liberal side rather than the ND/PASOK side. Would this grouping have to merge into a single party to win the 50-seat bonus, or compete on a single list? Or does a pre-announced coalition somehow qualify while running on separate lists? I can’t see any way ND and PASOK merge or even run a single list, even if it means SYRIZA/a new party based on SYRIZA/just Synapsismos have 120+ seats and an easier path at forming a government

  2. The very important issue raised by Chris has been expanded upon at another thread, the one with questions on Greek party law.

    (And, thanks, Chris, for the kind words in your first comment here. Welcome to F&V!)

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