Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thinking Through My Vote for the May 6 Elections in Greece

Elections can be very anticlimactic: after more than two years of living under siege, the Greek people are expected to channel their immense frustration and anger by putting an envelope into a box. Yet as we approach May 6, it is also clear that after complaining about everything under the sun – corruption, politicians, the troika, the Germans, speculators, high taxes, tax evasion, rising crime – the political system is now telling the average citizen, “OK, what do you want? No more pretenses, no more whining and yelling. What do you actually want?” And the answer to that question is incredibly complicated. 

My sense is that it is incredibly complicated for two reasons. The first is that the stakes are enormous. Politicians often say that their country is “at a crossroads” or that their country “has to choose between two paths.” Mostly, this is hot air. But in this election, it is clearly true. Faced with the deepest political, economic, social and moral crisis that most Greeks have ever experienced, our choice does matter greatly. One can imagine a very wide range of outcomes after the election – from a gradual degeneration of the state and society to a rapid return to economic growth and prosperity. Rarely are the stakes so high in an election. 

If importance is one reason, ambivalence is another. It is hard to know exactly what we’re voting for. Are we voting for the rival programs of the different parties? Are we voting in favor of or merely against something? Are we going to the polls to pick a future or to condemn the past? Does our vote even matter since the two big parties both supported the second bailout? Are we meant to vote for whom we like best or should we vote strategically given what the polls say? If the parliament has eight or nine parties, will our country even be governable? 

These are haunting questions for a people to ask just a few days before an election. But they are also real questions that deserve serious thinking. I can’t pretend I have all the answers but I too have been wrestling with those questions as I prepare to cast my vote next Sunday. So I wanted to share what conclusions I have reached over the past few weeks. 

First, I do think that these elections matter and matter a lot. Yes, our government has made a series of commitments to the Europeans and to the IMF, and these commitments limit the sovereignty of any new government. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves. We have many choices that remain – choices both within our current path and outside of it. There are always choices. One of the refreshing consequences of the current crisis is how vigorously we have been able to debate ideas that were merely taboo a few years ago. But the crisis has also shown that in desperation, no idea sounds too crazy; and the more desperate the people, the more open they are to crazy ideas. 

So yes, we have choices – many choices. We can choose to unilaterally default on all our loans. We can choose to leave the Eurozone and even the European Union. We can debase our own wealth. We can choose to raise taxes on the rich and we can use the system to confiscate their property. We can prosecute politicians whether or not they are corrupt. We can send the police to round up immigrants and expel them. We can close our borders and try to shut ourselves from the forces of international competition. We have many choices indeed and no one should underestimate just how wide the field of action has become. 

Even within the memorandum, we have choices. The memorandum is a live document – it is negotiated and re-negotiated, as conditions change, as targets are met or missed, and it has to be implemented. If the last two years taught us anything, it is that no country can improve its lot merely by signing a piece of paper (although it can certainly worsen it). Implementation, a commitment to change, competency and courage – these are all important even when the destination is fixed. But the destination is hardly fixed so they become more important still. 

With so many choices, do we vote for whom we want or do we vote based on what we read in the polls? In general, I think there is a case for a “strategic vote,” but only in limited cases. I can see the argument for a strategic vote in the 2000 US Elections for example when a vote for Ralph Nader could (and did) help elect George W. Bush. 

But in today’s Greece, it doesn’t make sense because there are too many permutations. A strategic vote is sensible when you can foresee the consequences of your actions (it was easy to see, for example, that a vote for Nader would aid Bush). But with so many parties trying to enter parliament and with so many possible post-election coalitions, trying to vote by thinking about everyone else’s vote becomes mentally exhausting. All strategic votes distort elections, but in Greece’s case, too many strategic votes risk creating an outcome that is wildly disconnected from reality. 

There is another reason I don’t like strategic voting. In a country with as much complexity and fluidity as Greece, it is an easy way out. By spending hours upon hours thinking about outcomes, you can easily miss the big picture – you can miss that you are called on to vote on what you think the future of Greece should be. “I voted for x because I thought that other people would vote for y” is in general not a very thoughtful answer and it is even less so today. 

Having tackled these two questions – do the elections matter and whether or not one should vote strategically – we then have to start thinking about who to vote for. I think this is a two-step process (assuming you don’t have a selfish reason to vote for someone, in which case you probably haven’t been tortured by all the doubts above anyway). First question is: do I vote for one of the big parties? If not, which of the smaller votes do I vote for? 

In my mind, there is no reason to vote for PASOK. What exactly is PASOK asking for? “Vote for us so that we can actually do all those things that we said we were going to do in 2010 and 2011 but didn’t actually do?” I can’t see anyone voting for PASOK, which is one reason their numbers are pitiful. What about New Democracy? The question is: do you trust Antonis Samaras? All the signs he has given us over the past few years is that his desire to become prime minister will outweigh any other philosophical or political position that he holds. I listen to his campaign speeches and he is talking about how great New Democracy is doing and how we wants to rule alone. These are not the instincts I want in a leader. 

If not PASOK and ND, then you ask a second question: what is the root of our current crisis? If you think the problem is international capitalism, the Eurozone, speculators, the banks and the rich, you have several good choices on the left. If you think the problem is that Greece’s moral values and security is assaulted by immigrants and lawlessness, you have several choices on the right. And if you think the problem is a gluttonous state and ridiculous protections in the marketplace, you have several centrist and center-right choices to pick from. 

There is one thing I would add here. Politics is about choices. You can’t have it all. You have to do things and you have to not do things. You have to prioritize, to make tough calls, to inflict pain and to be prepared to be unpopular. You have to weigh trade-offs and make sacrifices. PASOK’s failure in 2011 was in part a failure to make choices. Ii wanted it all. It wanted to dismantle the clientelism that it had created and yet still be elected by its historical supporters. It chose everything and so, in the end, it chose nothing. We have no more time for choosing nothing. 

So who am I voting for? For me, the choice has been clear: Stefanos Manos and his DRASSI party (running in partnership with the Greek Liberals.) Anyone who has read my blog will hardly be surprised. Manos is by far the most sensible and consistent Greek politician. He has the most accurate diagnosis of what went wrong, he understands the need and is willing to campaign on the promise to shrink the state and has liberal instincts that will create a space for the private sector to breathe and ultimately thrive. That’s what I want for Greece and no one best represents that hope than him. 

In the end, voting is an act of courage. We tend to forget this, especially in established, parliamentary democracies. It is a boring and simple act, but most big acts are simple if not boring. What I hope for on May 6 is that the country goes to the polls with what Barrack Obama termed “the audacity of hope.” Hope is a feeling that the country desperately needs. But more than that it needs audacity to rebel, to imagine, and to stand up to the fear of change. It has been our fear of change that has condemned us to our current misery. Our fear to compete and our fear to live without the shelter of the state. Voting for Stefanos Manos is my act of audacity on May 6.

19 comments:

  1. Amen. This type of audacity is, sadly, still scarce though.

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    1. Thank you Cleon. Let's hope there is more out there!

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    2. After having read your article with great care my first thought was "Yes, this fellow is on the ball" and then a second thought came in like a tsunami "The Greeks aren't" The problem with these elections is (and all prior elections) is that Greeks do not have the maturity to really think about what their vote means collectively because they're too busy thinking individually
      Now we're all in the same boat and the prevailing
      motive that will determine who they will vote for is still "me". I wonder how many people have actually sat down to look seriously at each party's platform (perhaps 1% and I'm being generous)instead all I hear are complaints. The party is over as so many people have said before me and it's time not to pick out who will clean the mess up but the admit the degree of responsibility they had in creating the mess and to finally realise they have to get their hands dirty cleaning up too!

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  2. Well, based on the latest polls, I am not sure this party will get any votes to make it near to have even one in Vouli...so, do you feel you are wasting your vote? I still kick myself for voting for Nader you know:-)

    Can Greeks vote in the US if they are nowhere near a Greek consulate? I have actually never voted in the Greek elections so I feel I have not participated in this tragedy!

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    1. George, I don't know - I called the Greek Embassy in Washington during the 2007 election to ask them if I could vote and they sort of laughed at me (probably for my naivete!). But I didn't check for this election.

      Am I wasting my vote? I don't think so. First, I want a clear conscience, and I'd rather regret a vote for someone I believe in. Second, it's all going to come down to the post electoral coalitions - in that game, what matters is which direction ND will be forced to move to form a government. Manos is gaining momentum - he may make it, he may not. But I can't imagine a better scenario than him actually being called into a coalition after the elections.

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  3. Congratulations on this article!

    http://klauskastner.blogspot.com/2012/04/political-common-sense.html

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    1. Thank you Klaus - much appreciated. It's taken a while for Manos to get the recognition he deserves, especially outside the country. But his platform reads like a breath of fresh air amid some very suffocating politics these days. Here's hoping he'll make it.

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  4. If I had a vote I imagine I'd be voting the same way.

    What I like about Manos is his consistency.

    The things he's saying now are not so different to what he was saying 20 years ago, whereas Samaras is simply a weathervane, blowing this way and that with the prevailing political wind.

    Finally a word on Chyrsi Avgi. Is it possible that their vote will collapse on polling day as people come to their senses, or are people hiding their true intentions from pollsters?

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    1. I have no idea on Chrysi Avgi. I think the Greek people are trying to convey so many emotions at the same time, it's hard to really hear what they're trying to say in the polls. That's another reason I don't like the idea of the strategic vote - too confusing.

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  5. I am glad our votes are aligned.

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  6. This is the first time I get to vote in an election-I'm turning 19 later this year-and one thing I know for certain is that I will NEVER support a Greek leftist party in my life(unless there is a left-wing politician who wants to introduce Scandinavian-inspired socialism and build a welfare system that Greece desperately needs).I'm really tempted to support Manos in the elections,but I'd prefer to vote for a party that has a chance at entering the parliament,so my vote will likely go to Dora and Dimokratiki Symmaxia.Kudos,by the way,this might be your best post yet,Nikos.

    P.S.:As far as Chrysi Avgi goes,I think the main reason why they're delivering is because LAOS is sinking at the same time...

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  7. Ιn my humble opinion, it is quite risky to vote for a party that is not likely to enter the parliament at this particular vote, because all the votes it will collect will go to the party that has grasped the majority in the end, due to this fabulous election law that is active nowadays...So it's pretty much like as if you were supporting PASOK/ND.

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  8. Nikos. As elections have been approaching there is something in my mind. In a representative democracy we do not really get a say in what will actually get done. But if we find that major party(s) have let us down or not implemented their manifesto we absolutely have to send a message that the behaviour is intolerable.

    If none of the parties have a viable solution in the election then the proper course of events is for the voters to achieve a hung parliament; Send the politicians back to think again and come up with something better.

    I support the protest vote, Vote for anyone Except PASOK/ND yes even Chrissi Avgi if that blows your trumpet.

    Do not think about these elections; Think about sending a message so that come the next elections the major parties know that they must follow a more conciliatory policy all year round.

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    1. Stuart, I appreciate the sentiment. But not all protest votes are the same. If your protest vote is Chrissi Avgi, you are sending a different message to the politicians when they go back and think again versus if you vote Drassi or KKE. The relative shares of the smallest parties will tell PASOK/ND towards which direction they need to shift the center of gravity of their governing to be in sync with the popular sentiment.

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    2. Nikos, You are correct in a way. On the other hand the problems that Greece faces are more multi-dimensional than the left - right divide. What Greece needs is reforms.

      Plus I have a nagging fear that this talk of extremists may be a ploy to scare certain voters back to voting for one of the two main parties.

      The House has had MP's from KKE and from Laos. How much difference did that make to policies. The Greek parliament always votes along party lines or the member is expelled.

      So while I can not Agree with the extreme right wing policies it really wont make any difference if a few get in. What it will do is quantify the dissatisfaction of the Greek voters in their leaders.

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    3. What's different is that when you do not vote for PASOK/ND, you may be voting for possible coalition partners. In that case, you want the leading parties to try to win over parties with an agenda you like rather than merely parties that got a protest vote. That's how I see it at least.

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  9. First of all one should ask themselves what does it mean to be
    Greek ? today Greece resembles more Hollywood pop culture, a country that has lost its sovereignty , and a society being over run by the African Asian over spill. Its Just what Kisinger wanted .Its time we show the world who we are and what we stand for and for once think Greek be Greek and when the Time comes be ready to die as a Greek The Vote is not about me or you But about Our great nation and its culture
    all or nothing . together as a people we must unite and Kick all those who did this to Greece out of the country banished for ever more with their families. Is this extreme? think what they have prepared for you This Is war!!

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    1. your post is wrong in so many ways that it hurts. African and Asian overspill? Great Nation? Kick out all who did this and their families? What they have prepared for us? I will leave aside the similarities of your post to the rhetoric of the most twisted ideology of our old continent and wonder why you are simplifying reality and demonizing innocent people so much. Even if we kick everyone out, how would that solve all the structural problems we are facing? Would our politicians become more accountable? Would our deficits disappear? Would we magically abandon all our ideas of tax invasion and free-riding leisure and become responsible citizens who finally care for their state? Or would we appreciate our beautiful country more and stop burning half of it every summer and pollute what is left? I would love to also find an easy target for my anger, but in truth, the way we've been treating immigrants all these years, I find it almost ironic to blame them for our mess.

      By the way Nikos, I loved your post. I wish I got the chance to vote too; it is indeed a cause of real anger for me that we are not allowed to vote tomorrow from distance. Vote for me too.

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  10. What happened to the DRASSI party in the elections? Didn' read anything about them in the German media.

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