Daily Archives: November 19, 2010

Greek locals 2010

First off, apologies for the relative lack of updates. I’ve had a lot on my plate aside from this, and I haven’t been able to cover other elections especially recent ones in Africa and Asia as I would have wished. I’ll refer you, for now, to Who rules where’s overview of those recent national elections.

Greece held key local elections on November 7 and 14. Not only where these elections the first test for Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government since his 2009 election victory, but they were also important in that they tested the popular mood after the tough austerity measures implemented by Papandreou’s Socialist (PASOK) government. They became even more crucial when Papandreou tied his government’s survival and the austerity measures to a PASOK win in these elections (saying he’d call snap elections if PASOK lost the local elections). Furthermore, these are the first elections under the vastly revamped local government structure.

At the lower level, there will be 325 municipalities, down from 1033 municipalities. Each municipality has a popularly elected mayor and council. The second level of government are now the peripheries, of which they are 13. These had existed in the past, but had served little role and the old second level were prefectures (and a few super-prefectures in major population centres), of which they were around 50. For political nerds, the new system is more comprehensive and much simpler, but the objective behind this reform was to save costs by cutting in the number of municipalities (and councillors), their salaries and in the number of local government employees. As such, it wasn’t well received by the incumbents. To quote the Communists, these changes “will lead to new and deep anti-people changes”.

The electoral system has changed a bit, notably raising the threshold for a first round win from 42% to 50%. The seats are allocated proportionally, but given Greece’s knack for fake proportionality, Three-fifths of the seats are allocated in the runoff, with the quasi-entirety going to the winning party. The remaining two-fifths seem to be allocated proportionally on the basis of first round votes with no apparent threshold.

It should be noted that these elections are officially non-partisan, so party labels tend to be slightly less rigid than in national elections. Still, everybody knows the party of the candidates and unlike in, say, Ontario, they’re rather well publicized. Even the Interior Ministry indicates a candidate’s party affiliation as well as the parties supporting him.

Given that my comprehension of the Greek alphabet, this is not a complete overview but hopefully a better one than the non-existent coverage in the Anglophone media.

The overall results were disappointingly bad for both major parties, PASOK and ND, though the former beat out the latter in their race to the bottom and thus prevented the country from another election (which would have further wrecked the economy). Abstention, especially in the runoff, was a big winner, with turnout at roughly 49% in municipal election runoffs (and 61% in the first round, though that is already low). The big winner amongst the political parties were the Communists (in Greece, they’re still Stalinist) who won 10.89%, a number they haven’t matched in a national election since at least 1989.

In Athens, which is a conservative (ND) stronghold, ND led on the first round with 34.97% (down from 46.1% in 2006) against 28.28% for PASOK (down slightly from 28.8% in 2006). The Communist Party took 13.74%, an excellent result (they had won 8.8% in 2006) while an independent list took 7.37%. The Radical Left (SYRIZA) took 5.8%, down significantly from 10.5% in 2006. In the runoff, for the first time in 24 years, PASOK won the capital city with 51.95% against 48.05% for ND, defeating the incumbent ND mayor.

In Thessaloniki, another conservative stronghold, ND led on the first round taking 37.91% against 33.58% for PASOK (in 2006, it had been ND 41.4% vs. PASOK 21.6% on the first round). The KKE took 9.5%, an independent took 6.04% while SYRIZA took a paltry 3.67% and LAOS did similarly poorly with 3.58%. In the runoff, another historic win for the left, with 50.16% for PASOK against 49.84% for ND.

I gave up all hope of understanding these elections in Piraeus, the country’s third largest city and Athens’ well-known harbour. As one might guess, it traditionally leans towards PASOK, giving the party a 45-32 margin over ND in 2006. In the first round, PASOK was down significantly taking only 29.61% against 23.08% for ND (which also did horribly). An independent backed by LAOS did spectacularly well, with 18.83%. The KKE did very well too, taking 14.77%. A candidate backed by SYRIZA, the Greens and the new Democratic Left (a party formed by the social democratic right-wing of SYRIZA a few months ago) won 7.58%. In the runoff, while the Socialists were making history in Athens, the conservatives won Piraeus with 51.76% against 48.24% for PASOK. If you needed proof that this is an anti-incumbent election, there you have it. Turnout also probably helped the right, given that it fell to barely 36% in the runoff.

In Patras, a PASOK stronghold, the challenge to PASOK from its left. In the first round, PASOK led with 35.07% (even slightly up on 2006) while ND was outpaced by a SYRIZA-Democratic Left coalition which took 21.13% against 17.7% for ND. The KKE won 16.52% in this old working-class city, an excellent result as well. In the runoff, the SYRIZA-led coalition took 53.63% against 46.37% for PASOK. Despite KKE hating SYRIZA, which they always brand as “opportunists”, it appears that their votes played an important part in electing its candidate.

In the Cretan capital of Heraklion, one of PASOK’s strongest base in Greece (their candidate won 72.8% in 2006), they held their ground well. They took 71.82% by the first round, with 12.13% for KKE in the absence of a ND candidate. SYRIZA came fourth with 6.5%.

A right-leaning independent held on easily in the industrial suburb of Peristeri, which is the country’s sixth largest city.

Winning party by periphery (source: Interior Ministry)

In the new peripheral elections, PASOK won 8 of the 13 new peripheries against 5 for ND. The Socialists had managed to win by the first round in Crete and in the South Aegean. The major race was in Attica, the huge new periphery where 40% of the population lives. ND was thought to be favoured there, and counted a lot on maverick independent Ioannis Dimaras, a PASOK parliamentarian who broke with the party when he refused to accept the IMF bailout of the country. In the end, PASOK led in the first round with 24.05% against 20.45% for ND. Ioannis Dimaras took 15.96%, the KKE took 15.96%, LAOS took 14.44%, SYRIZA (whose top candidate was a Socialist) took 6.23% and the Greenies took 4.04%. In the runoff, PASOK won the biggest prize of the night with 52.87% against 47.13%.

ND still held on in the northern peripheries, which cover the traditionally conservative areas of the country, notably winning in Central Macedonia (which includes Thessaloniki).

It’s rare that one gets the chance to read traditional 1950s Communist discourse in this day and age, and that’s why we’re all thankful that the Greek Communist Party (KKE) exists. It’s electoral statement is worth a read. It also gives us interesting statistics, the national vote share. According to the KKE, PASOK took 34.67% (down significantly from the 43.92% it garnered in its 2009 landslide) against 32.82% for ND (which lost around one percent compared to 2009). The Communists themselves took 10.89%, up roughly 3% for 2009 and the 2006 locals. SYRIZA, named the “opportunist current” by KKE, took 4.5%, down slightly from 4.6% in 2006. The KKE’s press release is correct in stating that the coalition/party has undergone an internal crisis, with the coalition’s right-wing walking out to form the Democratic Left which won roughly 2.5%. The far-right LAOS took 4.5%, around 1.5% less than in 2009 though that number seems a bit low given that the party was allied with ND (or PASOK) in a good number of the ballots and they did much better than that where they ran independently (notably in Attica). The Greens (the Communists haven’t found a funny brand name for them yet) took 2.9%, a small increase compared to 2009.

The bottom line is that these elections, while generally decent on the surface for the governing Socialists, were largely reflective of an anti-incumbent mood which seems very widespread and affecting all major parties equally (seeing that the four largest cities changed hands this year). The high abstention also reflects this mood, and a high vote for the Communists probably reflect the anti-incumbent and protest-oriented mood. Yet, unlike in Ireland (where the government is polling worse than the bubonic plague), the electorate doesn’t seem to have abandoned the government in droves following the tough austerity measures it implemented. It may surprise given the big street protests, but we should know better than reading the political mood of a country from its street protests.