Greece: PM Samaras’s risky game?

Kathimerini reports that before the presidential election PM Antonis Samaras seen ruling out any with the opposition, he wants president or snap elections. Would you say that it is a wise tactics, or maby not so much. and why? Read few comments.

Elias Dinas, Associate Professor in Comparative Politics, Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University

Samaras does not have many choices left. The only way to avoid snap elections is to find a way to get 180 votes for the president. This is very difficult at the moment but it seems that quite a few MPs began to worry about reelection and having to campaign without having a party anymore – became independents during this term – and will probably support Samaras’ choice. This leaves some chances of not going to elections in January. But even so, elections will eventually occur and SYRIZA will win. Hopefully, without having majority, although if polarisation keeps increasing, it might well be a single party government.

Vassiliki Georgiadou, Associate Professor of Political Science, Panteion University

Snap elections are the only option, that exists formally (according to the Greek constitution), if the Greek Parliament doesn’t be able to elect a president. This procedure could not had been exceeded after February 2015. What Samaras did was to shorten this period close to 2 months approximately.

The moment he chose to open this procedure was rather a positive one for both ruling parties (New Democracy & PASOK), because it was happened after the monetary plan for the next year had been approved by a majority of 155 PMs (+3 who they didn’t vote against).

All options are now open although the scenario that a new president will not be elected within this procedure is much more possible than any other. Snap elections that will take place in 3-4 weeks after the 3rd parliamentary ballot of Dec 29, are very possible.According to many opinion polls the distance between New Democracy and SYRIZA is being restricted, although SYRIZA remains first.

Samaras used the tool that every ruling party has in order to surprise the opposition. SYRIZA still has an edge over New Democracy, although the extend of its electoral victory (positive scenario for SYRIZA) mustn’t be taken for granted.

Pavlos EfthymiouPhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies, St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge

Greece is again very close to a new round of crises – economic, political and social.

Any political decision that is not in the direction of national unity, social and political, a broader national coalition for economic decisions which ensures stability and continuity, is a mistake.

The country needs to urgently address the question of economic recovery via a strategic strengthening of its productive economic sectors based on innovation and diversification.

To achieve this, a cross-party understanding needs to be reached, urgently. We need cooperation and not political tacticisms. A power thirsty opposition without a clear vision or holistic understanding and persuasive answers for the pressing problems of the country is also not helping at all.

Daphne HalikiopoulouLecturer in Comparative Politics, University of Reading

My understanding is that the move is strategic. With the choice of Stavros Dimas for president, the PM is putting forward someone who is neutral, and may also be liked by right-wingers, hoping to get some independent, ANEL and Golden Dawn support.

At the same time, it’s a strategic move towards SYRIZA. Samaras says no compromise, its either president or elections. This way, the government is basically saying if the president is not supported, then let the government fall and SYRIZA take the hot potato. With the extension of the memorandum, whoever is government will have to address some more tough measures later on in the year, so it’s a double edged sword for SYRIZA.

Samaras is also conveying the message that no president will have a destabilising effect for Greece.

Alexander KazamiasSenior Lecturer in Politics, Coventry University

To begin with, those who propose an agreement between Samaras and Syriza over the election of a new president (to avoid the prospect of a general election), are out of sync with the latest developments.  Now that Samaras and his socialist coalition partner, Evangelos Venizelos, have jointly proposed the right-of-centre Stavros Dimas as their preferred presidential candidate, they would have to incur substantial embarrassment if they retract from this choice and start negotiating with Syriza over another mutually agreed candidate. Second, advocates of this solution, like former PMs George Papandreou and Constantine Mitsotakis, speak as if Syriza could accept such a deal.  However, Alexis Tsipras, who heads the polls by 3-4 points, would never give a lending hand to the austerity policies of the Samaras government and has been calling for general elections for months.  In other words, this tactical option is actually not available to Samaras.  Those who propose it (i.e. Papandreou and Mitsotakis) are intra-party opponents of the current PASOK and ND leaders and are using the present crisis to further damage Samaras and Venizelos by underlining their narrow partisan thinking.

This being said, Samaras could have attempted to make a deal with Syriza before he announced his support for Dimas.  Even now, he could have stated, for example, that he would have liked to come to an agreement with Syriza earlier in the autumn and blame Tsipras for not cooperating, instead of appearing himself to be opposed to such a deal.  From this viewpoint, his communication tactics are certainly inept, and I believe these partly reflect his own limitations as a known partisan, populist figure on the Greek right surrounded by hard-line advisers, like Chrysanthos Lazaridis and others.

But there is a wider and hitherto unclear set of factors behind Samaras’s choice to appear uninterested in cooperating with Syriza over the election of a new president.  It may well be that his real plan is to stage a ‘heroic defeat’ over the election of Dimas in order to face the polls early next year, instead of extending the life of the current fragile coalition for a few months in which he would introduce new tough cuts, as the Troika is asking him to do.  The advantages of this option for him are: a) The recent closing of the gap in the polls with Syriza to 3-4 points; b) Syriza’s inability to find strong coalition partners even if it wins the next election, which means that Samaras could still head a new coalition even if his party came second in a general election; c) the possibility that, after the deadlock in his negotiations with the Troika, he could play the nationalist/populist card (which he knows best) and attract some support from the far right to block the rise of Syriza.

What is clear, however, is that Samaras has cornered himself politically long before he was forced to call an early presidential election last week.  After investing all his hopes in the support of the Troika as a reward for faithfully serving its austerity programme since 2012, he has now discovered that the Troika is prepared to dispense with him unless he agrees to yet another package of tough measures that will weaken his narrow support further.  As a result, since last week, he has chosen to go for broke.  Although there is a small chance that his gamble could pay off, experience suggests that when politicians resort to such desperate moves, they seldom succeed.

Anna VisviziAssociate Professor, DEREE – The American College of Greece

Elections for the post of the President of the Republic, a largely representative role, was employed as a means of political blackmail back in 2009 by G.Papandreou and led to elections in October 2009. The leader of SYRIZA, A.Tsipras, basically does the same in 2014. As the economic situation in the country is by no means positive, with excessive taxation killing any nascent thought of entrepreneurship and making people feel desperate as their life-time savings disappear, with the at-risk-of-poverty rate increased from just above 20 per cent in 2008 to over 44 per cent in 2013 with the unfortunate owners of usually inherited houses etc. losing (via unthinkable taxation) essentially everything that they have (yes, a form of nationalization), the situation in the country is very susceptible to populist voices like that of SYRIZA. In this context, the Troika’s hesitation regarding the question of ‘clean exit’ for Greece fueled SYRIZA’s claims while at the same time seriously undermining the position of the coalition government of A. Samaras. The tragedy is that if somebody was to push Greece on the path to reform and growth, it was Samaras. Unfortunately, as it seems now, Greece’s creditors, mostly the Europeans, did everything to block Samaras and – as the notions of the end of the MoU and ‘clean exit’ demonstrate – to weaken his position. I have described the details elsewhere. Obviously, in this context, cooperation with the opposition is out of the question. If it is a wise tactic? – There is no alternative.

Stella Ladi, Senior Lecturer in Public Management, Queen Mary, London University, Lecturer, Department of Politics and History, Panteion University

The presidential elections were due to place by the Spring of 2015 which means that they are only taking place a few months earlier.  I think that given the external pressures and possible further austerity measures (negotiations with the troika) and the strong internal opposition (strong Syriza discourse) Samaras had not much room for manoeuvre.  He needs to have a ‘confirmation’ of his mandate and to have strong legitimacy in order to continue with the structural reforms and the negotiations. I don’t think calling the presidential elections is only a tactic but also a necessity for the political landscape in Greece to clear up.

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