Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Democracy - Carved In Stone Or Work-In-Progress?

Out of (still) 28 EU democratic member states, there are probably not any 2 countries with identical democratic systems. The voting age may differ; the representation rules may differ; there may be winner-take-all or not; etc. etc.

I would like to see this: suppose that there are 28 different forms of democracy in the EU, have each country show the results in each of these 28 variations. Who knows? Maybe there is a democratic scenario where Merkel would not be Chancellor. Or take the most extreme example: in the US, it is quite possible that one becomes President without a majority in the popular vote (happened several times). Is that ok?

Greece, or rather: SYRIZA, is currently attempting to change the electoral rules: where the largest party received a bonus of 50 seats (out of 300) in the past, SYRIZA now wants to eliminate that. True, democracy may be more pure if one eliminates bonuses like that but democratic systems should also make it easy to form a government.

Obviously, SYRIZA's attempt is a play to assure its participation in government even when it is not the largest party. There probably is not a single Greek who doesn't understand that.

On the other hand, and removed from day-to-day politics, it would certainly seem appropriate, if not even desirable, that politicians continually lead debates about how we want to govern ourselves. Be that at the country level or at the EU level.

That’s what the American Founding Fathers (and their successors) did and, yet, Barack Obama still aptly calls American democracy „work-in-progress“.


  1. The current Greek system was created by Andreas Papandreou with the collusion of ND to make sure that these two parties always ruled, and stop any small parties from challenging them. With this trick, he shifted Greece away from multivariable political representation (e.g. Austria, Italy) and to be like the Westminster system, now discredited. Given that Pasok is now shut for business (thank God) and ND confined to whining about everything, it makes sense that Greece should have coalition governments, reflecting the people's will. The current system prevents this from happening.

    1. I guess you enjoy the idea of chaos...

      An analogical system is correct. This though for a normal country. In a country like Greece and at the current time, if there is no government, the public works stop. Hence if there is no solid government we will enter a period turmoil, new elections and new government every 6 months. Disaster. Nothing will get done and then we will return to the 1960's.

      This is an obvious attempt for Tsipras to try to remain in power, a selfish and personal goal, support by his stubborn ideologies.

      In general, the thought is correct, the timing is wrong. Until Greece has stabilized such a luxury must remain on hold. When I state stabilized, i mean all privatization to have happened, a revamping of the remaining public and the general economy and tax system stabilized. Maybe in 5 years.


    2. @V: I suppose there is the danger of chaos, but that danger is present anyway. As for wrong timing, Greece never did anything at the right time: why change the habit of a country? Doubtless, Tsipras is doing it for selfish purposes, just as every political leader does. When was the last patriot to run Greece? Venizelos, perhaps? (and he was Cretan anyway!).

  2. If democracy is a "work in progress" in Greece then it is demolition work.

  3. The EU is not made up of 28 democracies; rather it's made up of 28 oligarchies posing as democracies with conflicting aims and non-congruent interests.

  4. Let's not fool ourselves. There is no democracy in the literal sense of the word, anywhere these days. This was back in ancient Athens. What we have today, are variations of the british parliamentary system, that we could call "parliamentocracy". They get voted for X years, often with different agenda and along the way they feel legitimized to make other changes, for which they never got any consensur from the "demos" (the people).

    As for SYRIZA, this is the latest shot at the greek stability, as experiences of the proportional system have been rather discouraging in countries with similar temperament (see Spain's difficulty to form goverments, see Italy's history for 50 years of proportinal system, with 63 goverments in the period 1953-today and abbandoned the proportional some years ago).

    This is Tsipras' self-interest at his finest. According to how the vote goes, he may force:

    1) New Democracy to ally with SYRIZA. So SYRIZA stays in power. Side-effect: Golden Dawn becomes the party of major opposition. And history teaches that the party of major opposition, gathers the discontent and at some point takes power itself. Of course, should this happen, SYRIZA will accuse neoliberalism, the memorandum, New Democracy, Merkel, etc.

    2) Force New Democracy to form goverment by allying with every other smaller party in the parliament, including Golden Dawn, with SYRIZA major opposition party. SYRIZA will then be able to accuse New Democracy of being bed-fellows with the fascists and thus, that New Democracy is fascist too, collaborating with fascists, evoke the 1967 junta spectre, etc.

    If Tsipras was equally able to ruling the country as he is in making macchiavellian plots, Greece would now be blooming.

    1. IIRC correctly in Ancient Greece slaves didn't get a say, not sure that women did either.

      Today, Iceland is probably one of the better democracies - and their parliament (Althing) predates the one in the UK by almost 300 years!!

      The Westminster system is adversarial, look at the seating arrangements. Apart from the UK the only European country that has a Westminster government is Ireland.

      Maybe the world would work better if more countries adopted the Westminster system.

    2. To Mr. King,

      Slaves, women, as well as foreign (non Athenian) residents, the metics, could not vote, because, legally they were not "citizens". The title of citizen was reserved to adult males, that had completed military trainning. By today standards it was discriminatory and undemocratic, but technically, examining the system's application to those who did have the Athenian citizenship, it was much more direct and broad in partecipation of power sharing than any of today's systems.

    3. "If Tsipras was equally able to ruling the country as he is in making macchiavellian plots, Greece would now be blooming"
      He is very good at political dribbling, playing the game since a teenager, now what else is really needed to rule the country?

  5. If i may, a small but important detail. Tsipras, tried to change the electoral law for the next elections. In order to do that, he needed 200 out of 300 parliament votes. His hope, was, that all opposition parties would support his electoral law, as all opposition parties have to gain from it, since the bonus of the first party, is distributed to the lesser parties.

    Tsipras' plan failed due to the fact, that PASOK, River, KKE and Golden Dawn didn't support him. Only ANEL and Union of Center voted with him.

    The result is, that the new electoral law, will come into effect, for the elections after the next. In the meantime, Mitsotakis, leader of New Democracy, has vowed that when he becomes PM, he will try to change the law again, to preserve the bonus to the 1st party.

  6. Todays estimates are that The Athenian City State had 250000 to 300000 citizens, 30000 to 50000 had voting rights, not a lot. If the original criteria were used today the percentage of voters would be much smaller. Not only did they have to be grown up males with military training and both of their parents "Athenians", they were also disqualified if they had debt to the state.

  7. Since this is turning into a discussion about democracy in Ancient Greece, I will link this article by Prof. Hatzis ("The illiberal democracy of Ancient Athens") which I have read recently:


    1. It would have been a disaster for humanity, if the concept hadn't been revised since the ancient times. However, Prof. Hatzis, omits 2 important advantages of the ancient system over the current one: 1) You couldn't become a career politician, rotting for 20 years in a parliament chair (in a way or another), like you do today, making corrupt links with banks,mass media, businessmen, etc 2) Common citizens could rise to power positions by drawing a lot.

      "It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election." - Aristotle, Politics.

      These important 2 points were forgotten by Prof. Hatzis, trying hard to justify the title of his position. Quite advanced theory of politics for something written 2000 years ago, wouldn't you think?

    2. This is a much better source, The slaves/women argument is pure nonsense:


  8. You can hardly say that it is a discussion about ancient Greek democracy when the government spokesperson today publish that the aim of the constitutional review is "to strengthen popular intervention in the institutions with direct democracy as well as strengthen parliaments autonomy in relation to the executive".
    Hatzis is always worth reading.