Mon Nov 8th, 2010 at 01:47:15 AM EST
Today [Sunday 7 November] Greeks are electing regional and municipal authorities: mayors, regional governors and peripheral and city councils. Though the local government system has been very recently extensively reorganized, creating larger municipalities and moving power from both the central government and the prefectures to the regions (13 in all), these elections will not be about local problems as much as about government policy: they will be a test for IMF / ECB / EC / Greek government austerity policies. This is an electoral season that will be in all likelihood painful for the socialists: opinion polls show mounting disapproval of the austerity policies, as recession is expected to reach at least -4% this year, while inflation will be somewhere around 5-6%. A very rough calculation shows that we're talking at least -10% GDP purchasing power-wise, and in fact the situation is worse than that because the effects are skewed disproportionally against workers and small businesses, while unemployment and underemployment (or illegal employment: the Greek Unions' Institute estimates that 1 in 4 people currently working are in the informal sector, with no insurance), skyrockets: official unemployment is reaching in all probability 14% by the end of the year, while youth unemployment is at 30% currently.
The depression caused by the IMF / ECT policies (policies which the ruling socialists condemned just before the 2009 elections as ineffective as a way out if the crisis) weighs heavily on society and this it is no surprise that a few days before the election an opinion poll found that 47% of the Attiki region (the broader Athens area more or less) electorate, that is something like 1/3 of the total electorate, was for dumping the current deal with the EU (27% were against), 82% rated the government negatively (16% positive) and 69% were saying that the country is moving in the wrong direction.
front-paged by afew - see comments for results
Things are more complicated than this simple fact of course, as the tsunami of this catastrophic austerity has swept the whole political spectrum. The conservative opposition has already split in two (as its neoliberal part wanted to support the socialists in their economic policy) and its approval numbers are, if anything, even worse than the government's. The left has splintered to a comical degree (in the Attiki region, the political showcase of these elections there are six candidates running for governorship from the left and the greens) and has managed to be perceived as part of the problem itself.
The Prime Minister originally claimed that these elections were about local governance and the "new opportunities" that his reform of regional and local government will entail (apart from the fact of course that it effectively starves local government of funding), and his party chose to support as Mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece's two largest cities and home to over 50% of its population, non-political personalities to drive this point home. However the polling results were disastrous. It seemed that the socialist candidate for the Attiki region, considered an easy favorite before summer, was at risk of not making it to the second round, as the opposition, both left and right chose to run campaigns based on "sending the government a message about the economy", which the electorate was keen to do anyway.
So ten days before the elections Papandreou attempted a media coup: He went on national TV, and in an interview shown on all major TV channels, warned the electorate that, should PASOK, his socialist party, be defeated heavily in these elections, he would immediately lead the country to a general election.
Why he did that is an object of extensive debate, still. Its effects however were predictable: Greek bonds came under renewed pressure (having an effect on the eurozone as a whole), as Papandreou's myths regarding popular approval of the IMF measures were dissolved instantly. This is the first time in history that the world markets will be paying attention to local elections in Greece...
This indecipherable move doesn't seem to have affected the electorate's choices, PASOK is in for a defeat anyway, AND Papandreou has put himself in a position where a protest vote will mean either a humiliating reversal of his "threats" or new elections, where it is highly unlikely that he would achieve a better electoral result than the one PASOK achieved last year. The IMF and the ECT are not amused at this prospect.
There are five or six election results to watch. The polls are few (they cost too much and the Greek media couldn't afford too many of them this year) but they all show huge abstention rates and/or many undecided voters (that a week before the elections were at 30%!) The main fight will be in the Attiki region:
1. In the Attiki region, Giannis Dimaras a journalist and former PASOK MP who refused to vote for the initial austerity measures this past spring - and was then kicked out of PASOK, is a clear favorite, since he is both personally liked and the least "anti-PASOK" of the left candidates, making it easier for PASOK's electoral base to protest their party's policies. The question is whether the conservative candidate (Dimitris Kikilias) generally perceived to be weak with low recognizability and very little to show as public experience (thus not able to rally the conservative vote to his candidacy effectively) will manage to outperform the socialist candidate Giannis Sgouros, longtime head of the Athens prefecture before the latest reforms. If such an (inconceivable a month ago) event occurs, this would spell a resounding defeat for PASOK, and should trigger general elections, unless (as is likely) Papandreou manages to spin Dimaras candidacy as coming from PASOK.
The left would, I reckon, have won this governorship had it run a single candidate, even without Dimaras. As it is, the sum total of the left/green vote should be close to 25%. The Communists, who have managed to paint themselves as THE protest party (and little else IMHO, but that's another discussion) should see their candidate Thanassis Pafilis scoring above 10%. The non-stalinist left is cut in half: one part will be voting with former Synaspismos (the European Left party, something like PCF meets the Portuguese Bloco) leader Alekos Alavanos, who is running independently, and the party itself is allying itself with the organized socialist left, who have abandoned PASOK and are looking for a more long-term coalition with the left.
The extreme right (which is for austerity and is positioning itself as a "center-right party) will probably not do very well (although the polls might not be indicative)... We will see...
2. The City of Athens
This is expected to remain conservative, although we're talking about one of the worst run capitals in Europe and a mayor who is all PR, and little else (and the city of Athens is the countries second largest employer, note). However the (quite decent and likable former civil rights ombudsman) Giorgos Kaminis, will not be able to defeat reigning mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, because he is saddled with PASOK's support. Things are quite open however, and surprises might be in order. Bad surprises as well: A real and true Nazi candidate running on a platform of, pretty much, exterminating illegal immigrants, might manage to collect over 2% of the vote. Should Kaminis underperform badly this would count as a major hit against Papandreou.
3. Central Macedonia
This is the region that Thessaloniki belongs to and will in all likelyhood remain conservative as the prefecture governor of Tessaloniki, Panagiotis Psomiadis, a text-book populist, and media darling should win this easily in the already heavily conservative area. The question here is how bad the socialist candidate Markos Bolaris will lose.
4. The City of Thessaloniki
Years of conservative domination might continue as Giorgos Boutaris, a succesful businessman and local maverick supported by PASOK, the Greens and a party of the moderate left is close in the polls but again his candidacy has the onus of being supported by Papandreou.
This region is a coalition experiment in which the neoliberal right and PASOK (along with the extreme right LAOS) run a former conservative minister of culture Petros Tatoulis. This is a conservative region, and it would mean a lot for PASOK to win it. It doesn't look likely. If they don't make it to the second round, that would be again, some sort of very bad news for Papandreou.
6. The City of Patras
Greece's third city: This is going to the second round. The current mayor, a socialist will be there, but if he runs against Giannis Dimaras (no relation with the Attiki candidate) a candidate of the left as seems likely, he will lose next week, in a city which is traditionally very socialist.
I could go on but you got the basic idea. The socialists are running into a wall. If they don't make it the result will affect not only Greece but the eurozone at large. Note that this will be the first time in many years where there will be no exit polls because the tv stations can't afford them. It seems surreal but it is just an indication of how bad things are right now... As is the fact that the official results are, for the first time ever I think, not being given in English, or at least I couldn't find an English language feed...