The present crisis of trust in governance could be described as structural. Moreover, it attests to a crisis of representation that is unprecedented since the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974. Half of society (52%) either never (or almost never) trust governments in Greece, while 4 in 10 (40%) do so only occasionally. The belief that governments serve ‘a few big interests’ is overwhelming (89%), while with regard to tax money, 8 in 10 citizens (77%) believe that this money is wasted. At the same time, there is a sense that corruption among government officials is widespread, with 78% accepting the view that “many or all government officials are crooked”, while just 19% believe that ‘very few’ or ‘few’ officials are crooked.
The combination of responses to the above four questions: (trust in government, subordination of government to economic interests, waste of tax money, number of crooked officials) results in the Trust in Government Index (TGI), which is used internationally to measure the public’s attitudes toward. (In Greece it was measured for the first time in 1998, (Mavris 1999). According to this index, negative attitudes toward government are expressed by 97% of respondents. This clearly raises a question of legitimization.
Given the public’s entrenched beliefs regarding the country’s governance, the spotlighting of the longstanding problem of corruption among politicians will inevitably have knock-on effects. Impacting on political forces as a whole, it is only natural that the present picture will deteriorate further. As a result of the ‘Siemens scandal’, the Greek ‘cartel’ parties are being roundly condemned. Parliamentary investigative committees leave citizens ‘completely indifferent’, while the standing of the judiciary, which has for some time been rapidly declining, shows no sign of recovering. And no government since 1980 is spared criticism.
What will be the repercussions of this development for the party system in its present form and the political system in general? At this point, certain clarifications must be made to avoid a oversimplistic interpretation of the phenomenon.
Undoubtedly, the lack of trust in government does not automatically entail a crisis of confidence in the political system. Of course the former is linked to the latter, but does not lead in a straight line to it. Also, the decline in public confidence does not automatically translate into disengagement from the political process. Political and election research elsewhere has shown that low confidence in government does not lead – through a process of cause and effect – to abstention from elections, or more generally to a diminishment in political participation.
What will happen in Greece in the coming period is not yet clear. However, developments in the last two months, following the country’s IMF bailout, which are clearly reflected in both the previous and the present monthly barometer of Public Issue, appear to indicate growing voters disenchantment.
Date of publication: 13/06/2010
Publication: Newspaper “KATHIMERINI”