With Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ decision to call for fresh elections on September 20th, Greece will soon find itself having held three elections in the space of just eight months. That may be an interesting statistic for the record books, but it’s far from proof that democracy is working here. With Tsipras’ Syriza party running out of ideas, recent polls show the party in a neck-and-neck race with the centre-right party, New Democracy (ND). This isn’t because of any particular appeal of ND; rather, it’s a reflection of voters’ disappointment in Syriza’s performance in office, with perhaps a pinch of bitterness at the outcome of the party’s handling of debt talks with Greece’s creditors.
But make no mistake, a defeat for Syriza—even if the party purges radical members before the next election—will make little difference to future direction of the country since both parties represent simply different versions of the same old regime: tired, spoilt, and devoid of ideas. On the contrary, what seems to really make the difference is that ND would ensure a return to some kind of normalcy for the wounded middle-class. In any case, the most likely scenario following the vote is for the two parties to agree to form a coalition government.
Would this be bad news for the agreement with the creditors? Far from it. Both parties are determined to implement the program as they now know that it cannot be changed. In a way, Greece has served as something of a test case for Europe; a place where anti-austerity political reactions were tried and failed. That doesn’t bode well for the likes of Podemos in Spain, at least for the foreseeable future.
But the most interesting thing about these developments is that we are currently witnessing the end of the battle between austerity and anti-austerity movements that has dominated politics in Greece and the rest of Europe for the last five years and that had, albeit temporarily, erased the classic center-right/center-left political dichotomy. At the same time, politics are becoming more fluid, fragmented, and fragile in Greece and elsewhere in western democracies, as we begin to see the true impact of the ebbs and flows of globalization and open markets.
Now that the politics in Greece appear to be returning to something resembling normalcy, here are five things to watch out for in the months ahead:
- I’d suggest there is a 90 percent chance of there being a coalition government after the upcoming election, probably a grand coalition between ND and Syriza. In the event ND comes out ahead, Syriza may try to slip away to avoid the political costs associated with coalition, though the refusal to participate may only harm the party and Tsipras further.
- Whatever the composition of the new government, the reform program agreed with creditors will be implemented almost in its entirety. The main reason for this is that the mentality of the people has completely changed following the traumatic events of capital control and seven painful months of Syriza rule.
- Syriza’s days in the sun have come to an end. Stripped bare, voters now see that the party’s current political personnel is comprised mostly of the worst elements of the old socialist Pasok party.
- The country desperately needs political reforms, including of both the Constitution and the electoral law. For the latter, a system of “relative majority” or “first past the post” may offer the stability the system requires to heal the wounds of the great recession of 2010-2015.
- Tsipras should not be allowed to slip away from the next coalition government. It is important that he takes responsibility for the agreement he signed. Who knows, he might even be able to contribute creatively to the restructuring of the centre-left.
In the long-term, getting to a two-party system should be the number one priority for Greek politics if the country is to return to political stability and growth. Perhaps a step can be taken in that direction when voters go to the polls on September 20th.
For the first time, [the European Parliament elections] will be fought on European issues, not on national issues. [French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy's governing populists] represent two pure versions of what's going to be offered. [Europe is] now entering a phase where the political fight is in Brussels. It is now a place where you have parties and platforms, and the direction might shift very much if a new party wins.