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7 May 2012
Ephialtes! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
the Hellenic Democratia hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient Grecian dower
Of inward happiness………
[With apologies to Milton and Wordsworth]
It is a well-known historical fact that Greece is the cradle of democracy.
It was in Athens 2500 years ago, in 462 BC, that the key powers of the powers of the Areopagus – the conservative-leaning judicial and political council composed of elder statesmen and old freddies – were transferred to democratic institutions (popular courts, elected councillors and an assembly of all citizens).
This transfer of power, carried through by Ephialtes, marked the birth of democracy.
It is a less well-known – but still mindboggling – fact that the current Greek election rules give 50 extra seats in the Boule, the Greek parliament, to the political party which gains the highest percentage of votes in the parliamentary elections.
In the parliamentary election which took place yesterday 6 May in Greece, the electorate gave a bloody nose to the two main political parties – Pasok (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement) and the rightwing New Democracy party.
This is because they agreed to act as agents of the German government – in “collaboration” with the European Union in Brussels and the IMF in Washington – in imposing a savage austerity package on the Greek people in exchange for a budget bailout.
With 99.9 % of the vote counted, the results of yesterday’s ballot were as follows:
New Democracy, which won 33.5 % of the vote at the last election in 2009, yesterday won only 18.85 %, entitling it, on the basis of the percentage of votes cast, to 58 seats in the 300-seat Parliament.
However, as the party which gained the highest proportion of votes, New Democracy received no fewer than 50 extra seats as a free gift, taking its representation in parliament to 108 seats!
The Pasok score yesterday was worse: 13.18 % (43.92 % in 2009), giving it only 41 seats.
In fact, Pasok limped into third place after the leftwing Syriza party, which scored 16.78 % (4.6 % in 2009) with 52 seats in the Boule.
Two other leftwing parties also secured representation in parliament: the Communist KKE party with 8.48 % (7.5 % in 2009) of the vote and 26 seats, the Democratic Left with 6.1 % (it was absent from the 2009 election) and 19 seats.
On the right, apart from New Democracy, the results were as follows:
Independent Greeks: 10.6 % (absent in 2009) of votes and 33 seats.
Golden Dawn ( a far right party): 6.97 % (0.3 % in 2009) of votes and 21 seats.
What can possibly justify giving an extra 50 votes to New Democracy? The answer is nothing. It amounts to a negation of democracy and makes a mockery of the ballot.
The system of voting used in Greek is, on the surface, proportional representation, that is to say, parliamentary seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes cast.
Wherever proportional representation is used, it frequently happens that many parties – some large, some small – are elected to parliament. These parties then have to negotiate among themselves till they come up with a recipe for government upon which a majority of members of parliament can agree. Proportional representation gives pride of place to democratic decision-making.
So what is the rationale for giving an extra 50 seats in Greece to the party with the highest percentage of the vote?
According to today’s Le Monde newspaper, the idea is to “stabilise the result of the proportional ballot”.
In fact, the idea is to shut out from government the smaller parties. The aim is to give the largest party – for free – enough votes to form a parliamentary majority by itself or in coalition with the next largest party. In plain language, the aim of this wheeze – spatchcocked into the electoral rubric – is to ensure that the two big traditional parties, New Democracy and Pasok, continue to exercise a stranglehold over government in Greece.
The result, of course, is to make the ballot non-proportional. New Democracy is entitled to only 58 seats on the basis of its 18.85 % share of the vote. The extra 50 seats, giving it a total of 108 seats, negate the very principle of proportionality.
This is the “new”modern-style democracy that has replaced the old-fashioned traditional ballot where every vote counted but no vote more than any other.
The New Democracy party is well named!
The extent to which the shenanigans of the Greek political class have turned off voters can be gauged from the abysmal turnout. Only 65.09 % of the electorate bothered to vote – this at a time of extreme political turmoil and the implosion of the Greek economy. Over a third of voters could not be fagged to turn out. They were convinced that the political class, responsible for imposing austerity on them in the first place, were the last people likely to do anything to alleviate the resulting hardships.
Ephialtes must be turning in his grave!
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.
UK Electoral Reform Society comment on the Greek electoral system