Greece votes on Sunday with New Democracy the favourites
Despite the recent fires which ravaged parts of the Peloponnese and the island of Evia near Athens, Greece will hold a snap general election on Sunday as planned, from 7am to 7pm local time. The parliamentary term was set to last until March, but speculation has arisen that the poll has been held early as the government feared the fallout from a bond scandal which looked set to intensify later this autumn. Even before the most recent fires which have not long been put out, the administration was already under pressure over the fires which occurred earlier this summer close to Athens.
By comparison to other Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Greek politics is relatively straightforward, at least in terms of the party structure. The governing party since March 2004 is the centre-right New Democracy, led by PM Costas Karamanlis, and UK Conservatives may be glad to hear that ND still has a flaming torch as its logo. The main opposition party is the centre-left PASOK, led by George Papandreou. The third party is the KKE (Communists), followed by SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), and LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally), who are “populist”, although they have been described as far-right by others.
Greece has a PR voting system with multi-member constituencies, although it seems traditional for a government towards the end of its term to tinker with the electoral system so as to improve its chances at the next ballot. The only other countries that I’m aware of where this has happened were Italy under Berlusconi in late 2005 and France under Mitterrand ahead of the 1986 election – although it should perhaps be pointed out that Prodi won in 2006 and the right won in France in 1986, leading to a period of cohabitation with Chirac as PM. Ahead of the 2007 Greek election, the rules were changed to give a 40-seat bonus to the winning party.
As with Spain, the modern era of Greek politics began in the mid-1970s, with the exit of the colonels and the restoration of democracy, and like France, with the Socialists (ie PASOK in Greece) taking power in 1981 (alternance in the French political lexicon). Greek politics is also a very dynastic affair – thus current PM Costas Karamanlis is the nephew of Constantine Karamanlis, who enjoyed political longevity to rival Jacques Chirac or Israel’s Shimon Peres, becoming PM for the first time in 1955, and leaving the Presidency 40 years later. Meanwhile current PASOK leader George Papandreou is the son of Andreas, Prime Minister from 1981-9 and 1993-6. Age is also no barrier to high office in Greece – during a political crisis in the late 1989, a non-political caretaker PM was 85 while the leaders of the three main parties were all in their seventies.
During the current campaign, New Democracy has enjoyed small poll leads despite the fires, although one or two of these have been very close. Greece has a ban on opinion polls during the last fortnight of a campaign, although there has been speculation that some polling data may appear in Cyprus, rather like early election results from France being available in Belgium and Switzerland first. With just under a week until election day, there is a healthy “Next PM” market on Betfair, with Karamanlis (ND) at 1.3 (30/100) and Papandreou (PASOK) at 4.6 (just above 7/2). My gut feeling is that New Democracy will win the election by a couple of percentage points or so, although I have had a small flutter on PASOK as the ND price is so short.
It should also be remembered that like the UK in 1992, opinion polls in Europe can be wrong too (and obviously with a 2-week ban, final official polls could vary significantly from the election result). A good example of this was the Austrian election last autumn, where the People’s Party led every single opinion poll, with leads of 4-6%, but lost by a point to the Social Democrats, although my theory is that some voters told pollsters they would vote for the People’s Party but ended up supporting the right-wing Freedom Party and BZÃ–, not unlike the “shy Le Penists” in France in 2002.
Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”
Mike Smithson returns on 17th September
Paul Maggs runs The Election Game – click on the logo to email for more information.