Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Manifesto For A New Greek Political Governance

A guest commentary by Konstantinos (Dean) Plassaras.

As a Greek American who followed closely the painful re-arrangements of Greek life post 2008 and had to endure unusual humiliations in the process stemming from revelations about the mismanagement of the country of his birth and the behavioral patterns of its people, I wish to offer a plan of political action for the upcoming 2019 Greek Parliamentary election which is expected sometime during the fall of 2019.

It is often repeated in the Greek public dialogue that the best political outcome would be a government of national unity in order to implement a series of painful compromises and reforms promised to the European Union, an institution which also faces its own turmoil and existential issues of considerable depth. In other words, whether one looks at Greece from an internal/domestic point of view or external/international prism, there are some rough seas ahead and certain practical decisions/actions need to be undertaken in completing safely a challenging voyage.

As every mariner will tell you, when he/she sees the storm clouds gathering, the first reaction is neither to change the sea captain of the vessel nor to wish having a different type vessel to survive the upcoming waves. Rather one readies the ship as best as possible, fortifies crew unity and focuses on the task at hand. It is the sense of impending danger that galvanizes everyone on board into a cohesive response on the basis of the same shared fate.

Unfortunately, modern Greeks in the face of danger and/or  external challenges tend to divide rather than unite. To further exasperate this enduring Greek political trait, the existing Greek political class tends to be of rather low quality compared to US or core European standards which leads to the usual accusation that Greek politicians are not so much concerned about improving the life of their fellow citizens but rather more concerned to secure a position of privilege at public expense. In addition to the flaws inherent to all political parties everywhere around the world, Greek politicians tend to be arrogant, opinionated and rather unfocused to the hard task of good governance.

There is an old saying that if someone gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So given the shortcomings and inherent flaws of the Greek political class what is one to do? Do the best with the material you have, might be a good answer rather than constantly trying to reinvent the wheel.

In early 2015, the Greek voters elected a new party, not so much by choice but rather due to lack of credible alternatives. The two traditional systemic parties had experienced a spectacular failure and having tried to achieve European approval in co-governance came up short in the process. A new political coalition was created, sort of a fusion between traditional Left (Syriza) and traditional Right (ANEL, aka Anexartitoi Ellines, translated in English to Independent Greeks). This new government was not an optimal choice on the grounds of professional skill in governance or experience yet it tried its best and scored a few points. This governing coalition, which its opponents refer to in a pejorative way as SyrizAnel (a Greek adaptation of the Merkozy phenomenon of European indecision and incompetence) is, however, heavily tilted towards Syriza (90% Syriza, 10% ANEL). So, even though it achieved something unheard of in modern Greek politics (a unity government of both the Left and the Right), it is seriously lopsided towards the Left and as such not truly a representative party of all Greeks.

Before I deliver my observation, which by now some of you suspect what it might be, let me reveal my personal bias which is that I am tone deaf towards ideology of any kind and I am rather a seeker/admirer of talent in others. I do not wish to engage in a discussion of whether the Right or Left promotes the correct approach because to be quite frank, I have heard the arguments of both sides and they are both lacking. Therefore, I am more interested in picking talent from both sides and allowing them the space to work together with an extreme tolerance towards their ideological differences which I find worthless. The idea here is to pick the right team for Greece and not a political dogma to live by.

Hence, my proposal to the Greeks: keep what you got but take a page out of the book of the ancients and perfect it. To do so, the conservative representation in the future coalition government needs to increase, let’s say to a 50/50 ratio. In order to achieve such a ratio, conservative Greeks who are considering voting for the failed New Democracy party need to instead direct their vote towards increasing the ANEL representation for the following reasons:

* The two governing parties, despite profound ideological differences, know by now how to work together which is good as a foundation towards national unity.
* Tsipras has earned some European appreciation and his governance (so to speak) is a known commodity by now in European circles. Europe can work with someone they know and indeed are working with the Tsipras government on a variety of fronts.
* There are certain ministers who have been exceptional in discharging their duties: (a) Euclid Tsakalotos, a product of Oxford who truly speaks the European language and relates flawlessly to his counterparts outside Greece; (b) Elena Kountoura, the Tourism minister who has experienced successive years of breaking records in both the number of tourists and state revenues. Because success begets success, I would like these two ministers to stay because they have a lot more to offer and by now they are fluent in the performance of their duties.
* Kammenos, the head of ANEL, even though a controversial figure and a dedicated eurosceptic, nonetheless he manages the highly sensitive defense department which is a different world of its own; an amalgam of egos, excessive national pride and lofty expectations. It takes a certain person (even some false bravado) to do this job well and Syriza, which is a dedicated anti-militarism party, could not perform this function very well; the risk here being a serious division or schism on a national basis compounded by ever-present religious matters.
* The existing coalition has gained experience in governance and it would be best to build on such experience for optimal outcomes.

What of the New Democracy and Pasok political parties, you might ask? Pasok was clearly annihilated and what survives today is its more radical part reconstituted under Syriza. The mainstream ex-Pasok centrists remaining faithful today are not convincing at all. Mitsotakis is a talented guy and a future leader of Greece but he needs to spend another four years in the benches getting rid of New Democracy’s old wood which is considerable, indeed. He is a reformer but his party is the most sclerotic anti-reformist party one could possibly imagine. So, New Democracy needs to reconstitute itself in more credible ways which currently are lacking. What is also lacking in any attempt to re-introduce this old party so soon back to power is the proverbial reasoning that "trying the same old thing expecting a new outcome is a form of madness”. To see a party of failure so soon back from exile would be a clear sign that nothing has changed in Greece or ever will change. A cynical outcome indeed. I also fear the hatred and division sown by ND and Syriza which might plunge Greece into a protracted period of political stagnation. So the idea here is to let the conservative representation grow without the agency of the usual ND broker.

Having said all this, I am fully aware that the Greeks will not follow my proposal. The existing voting habits would seriously prevent such. Therefore, why am I giving this advice which has such low likelihood of acceptance? Well, I was born a Greek and the burden of care for my own would only leave me with my last breath. I also wish future generations that might read these ideas to know that there were alternatives proposed towards a better national equilibrium.

Finally I wish to thank all who participate in this blog for the rigorous debate platform provided. Even though at times I pretended to be indifferent to the ideas presented here, the truth is that what was said followed me for a long time and urged me to think and reformulate my approach. Is free thinking better than following the safety of the majority? I guess this is something we will all find out or maybe future historians will eventually tell us if it had a good ending.

Dean Plassaras is a Greek-American living in the Western United States.