Today’s election result will provide a very clear indication, not only of the relative strength of Greece’s political parties one year after the most recent parliamentary elections and six months after the signing of the Memorandum, but also – and above all – of the extent and depth of the disintegration of the party system which is taking place.Voter discontent is expected to be expressed in three ways: 1) With a higher rate of abstention and blank/spoilt votes. So far, this trend appears to be the strongest. Since 2004, when the highest participation in elections was recorded since the restoration of democracy in 1974 (figure 1), the trend toward abstention has continuously increased, while in recent elections, with the watershed of the 2009 European elections, when abstention reached a record high (figure 2), it appears to be accelerating. 2) With anti-party/anti-system protest votes going to non-mainstream/newly established parties, or to ‘anti-party’ candidates, such as Yiannis Dimaras. These first two trends are more apparent in the large cities, among younger age groups and the financially stronger social groups of the population. 3) Lastly, to a much lesser degree, with the strengthening of the main opposition party. This is a ‘traditional’ way of expressing discontent which has preserved the two-party system for so long. It may be more evident either in areas where the main opposition party has strong candidates, or in its traditional strongholds. But also in rural areas, in small- and medium-size towns, as well as among the older age groups of the electorate. It is not possible to predict which of these three trends will ultimately prevail, or what their resultant will be.
Intermediate elections, i.e. those held during an election cycle, whether they be municipal/prefectural or European elections, invariably track and record the general political climate. Sometimes they serve to confirm and consolidate the relation of forces which emerges from some significant electoral shift. This was the case, for example, with the local elections of 1982, following PASOK’s historic victory one year earlier, or the European elections of June 2004,
which were held just a few months after New Democracy’s convincing win in the parliamentary elections of March. Sometimes however, they portend the electoral shift (whenever there is one) that will be recorded in the next parliamentary elections. One recent example of this was the European elections of June 2009.
These elections revealed, for the first time since 2004, the electoral shift that had taken place in the past year against New Democracy. PASOK’s lead was confirmed and indeed increased in the parliamentary elections that followed three months later (October).
The municipal/prefectural elections of the 1990s, i.e. those held in 1994 and 1998, confirmed the first major crisis of the two-party system since the restoration of democracy. This was the first appear-ance on a large scale not only of the phenomenon of the so-called ‘rebels’ but also the phenomenon of party alliances (PASOK/Synaspismos, New Democracy/Political Spring), which constituted an element of divergence of the prefectural elections, at least the first two (1994, 1998), from parliamentary elections.
In contrast, the municipal/prefectural elections of the following decade, i.e. those of 2002 and 2006, were held in a different political environment, in conditions of relative stability for the party system. The electoral and political rise of New Democracy was foreshadowed in the municipal/prefectural elections of 2002 and led to electoral victory in 2004, and it was confirmed also in the local elections of 2006, one year before the party’s second win at the polls in 2007. And so, what trend are the (new type of) regional elections expected to show, in a juncture such as the present one, characterized by a rekindling of the party crisis? What differentiates the present crisis significantly from that of the previous decade and confirms that today’s crisis is deeper than the previous one is undoubtedly the trend toward fragmentation of the political parties. A trend that may lead – though not directly of course – after a transitional period to the transformation of the two-party system into one that is essentially bipolar.
*Political scientist, PhD, President & CEO of Public Issue
Date of publication: 07/11/2010
Publication: Newspaper “KATHIMERINI”