Friday, February 24, 2012

Greece's April election will be less a battle between parties than a battle within the conflicted minds of the voters themselves

As TNM readers know, I have been watching events in Greece closely for the past year. I promise, however, that this will be the last post about Greece for a while – so those completely uninterested in reading anything about politics and world affairs can return soon to TNM without fear.

While we in the U.S. are headed towards an election in November that looks to be about sex, religion and oligarchy, the people of Greece will go to the polls in April in what may turn out to be one of the more interesting elections in modern times. Rarely are the choices so stark, the stakes so high, the conflicts so apparent.

The most recent polls show New Democracy, the center-right party leading, but with only around 20 percent or less of the vote. PASOK, the socialist party which won the 2009 election, trails badly but is in second.

PASOK, despite being the established socialist party, is hardly the darlings of the left, however. So that leaves room for a suite of leftist parties, as well as at least one right-wing party.

The two main parties, New Democracy and PASOK, have come out for the Eurozone bailout packages and currently have the votes in Parliament to pass the legislation necessary to implement the demanded austerity measures. Meanwhile, the lesser parties are growing because of the austerity measures being forced upon them - as well as the perception that the major Greek political parties are giving away their rights to the EZ finance ministers and the European Central Bank.

But, but, but... polls also show that a majority of Greek citizens want to remain part of the Eurozone. This is creating a major conflict, but that conflict is not between parties but between two conflicting goals of the voters: lessening the effects of austerity, and staying in the EZ.

If the polls are correct, and there is no way to prove they are or aren't, New Democracy would come out on top and be forced to partner with PASOK, its arch rival. Together, the two parties would still not reach a majority and would need one or more partners willing to cross over and support the bailout packages.

Up until recently that party was LAOS, the right-wing party mentioned above. But LAOS, under the leadership of George Karatzaferis, has come out against the bailout package. But this move was very convenient. LAOS only has 16 members in Parliament, so their opposition to the bailout did nothing to stop the package from winning approval in Parliament. The move was totally political, an attempt to gain in strength.

But the real opposition appears to come from the left, the side of the political spectrum seen as opposing the former military junta. But without PASOK the left can not win a majority in the election, can it?

This is where my own ignorance of Greek politics comes into play. As an outsider I don't understand how the desire to lessen the influence of the EZ and moderate austerity can be reconciled with the desire to remain an integral part of Europe. My guess is that many Greeks will hold their noses and vote for one of the two major parties rather than take the giant leap of faith that a return to the drachma would require.

As for whether leaving the euro is the right thing remains tough question. Few see how Greece can undergo a devaluation without having its own currency, yet the attraction of being an integral part of the Eurozone is strong. Further, withdrawing from the euro may mean withdrawing from the EU.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with New Media, and why the obsession with Greece here at TNM? Well, I admit I'm a news junkie, after all, my background was newspapers long before it switched over to magazines.

But the fact is that events in Greece could have an incredible influence on what happens elsewhere in Europe. This site has readers in Portugal and Spain, for instance – two countries that are having their own economic issues and wonder whether they will be part of any Eurozone in the future, or even if there will be a Eurozone in the future. For them, the Eurozone debt crisis is forcing much of Europe into recession and is causing tremendous pain in the media industry. That, in turn, is holding back investments in digital publishing.

Further, others I talk to tell me that the slowing down of the economy in Europe, partially brought on my the debt crisis, is starting to directly effect the digital publishing business. Companies that have managed to eke out growth through their ability to attract business and partners in Europe now find it is becoming more difficult to get those companies to spend money on new ventures.

The situation in Greece has been one of the most interesting stories of our time – and by a strange twist in fate, it appears that I will be in Greece later this summer. What had once appeared to only be a vacation may turn into an opportunity to talk to journalists covering the events first hand (if events warrant).

Update (9 EST): Panos Kammenos, an MP that was expelled from New Democracy in November when he did not vote for the new coalition government, has announced that he will form a new political party.

The Athens News is reporting that the new party will be called Independent Greeks (Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες).

"Our movement is born. The Virgin Mary is our helper and protector. We are many. We are independent. We are Greeks," Kammenos was quoted as declaring – though I seriously hope something was lost in translation.