A Citizen’s Guide to Greece 2015


September 23, 2015

@#$% democracy

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Written by: DW

I first saw this illustration on Facebook early this past Monday morning, after I had read initial accounts in the Greek press on voter turnout in the September 20 general election. My first reflex was maybe to share it with awi tty caption.

To be truthful, I experienced an odd combination of emotions when I first discovered the extent of voter disaffection, or apohi, in the election — close to 45% nationally in fact. Several prominent journalists and pollsters provided their commentary the following day. It was clearly one of the major stories of the election.

I have been writing about voter absenteeism since before the onset of the sovereign debt crisis. The research center I direct is currently engaged in a project on the phenomenon, which, I have suggested elsewhere, is a discrete threat to democracy in Greece.

As my emotions calmed, and my urge to emulate Voltaire subsided, it struck me that there may be two ways of looking at the problem of apohi this past weekend. Neither is encouraging or flattering.

1. Former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras provoked early elections in January, staged a shock referendum in July, and resigned to force early elections in September as part of a cynical plan to manipulate voter fatigue for his own personal benefit. Screw democracy.

2. Tsipras, whose own party lost 300,000 voters from its Janury tally, the largest single loss of the count, was part of a systemic failure of the Greek political elite to motivate voters to actually to vote. Democracy is screwed.

The emotions that beset me this past Sunday night, I can reveal, were despair, anger, bemusement, and resignation. You see, I have invested some effort over the years to coordinate modest, non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaigns. As I myself do not vote in Greece, I had otherwise ;ittle immediate stake in the outcome of the election, knowing full well that the next government would be compelled to implement the terms of the third memorandum. Perhaps this same thought deterred potential voters who found other things to do on September 20.

I say that democracy in Greece is under threat. Poor voter turnout is compounded by doubts I have personally that many leading political figures are fully committed to the survival of democracy in this country. I wrote this in 2014 in my book Still at Aulis but the question is still pertinent.

Can we be certain that leading lights in the two main parties, whose support base is severely depleted, are so committed to the ways and means of democratic governance that they would not be tempted to engage in extra-parliamentary rule once the current power-sharing arrangement comes to an end?

Meanwhile, certain politicians have talked so much about democracy that it is hard to escape the impression that it was merely an Orwellian exercise in political rhetoric. Syriza have excelled in this exercise, but they are not alone.

The numbers, nonetheless, are frightening. As one pollster exclaimed in the days following the election, Greece has lost over a million and a half voters since 2009.

A candidate in an election in the US a few years ago stated something to the following effect during a televised debate: I should say that I want everyone to vote, regardless of whom they vote for. (Vangelis Meimarakis claimed something like this in one of his last campaign events.) But I won’t. I don’t want you to vote if you are not going to vote for me. Stay home.

Nobody wants to cede defeat in the quest to create a viable, functional democratic system, to give up on the vision that people everywhere can and should govern themselves.

Greece today is ripe for a new approach to voter engagement, one which splits the difference between cynicism and idealism. Let’s hope it is not too late.



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