Μay 8, 2011
THE GREEK political system is sick, diagnosed with corruption and clientelism. One of the proposed cures is an electoral reform. However, in this case the patient is also the doctor responsible for devising and implementing the cure. This fact, coupled with the structural tendency of any system - whether healthy or sick - to preserve itself to some extent, does not promise any radical changes. The treatment, if implemented, is expected to be moderate. But will it be sufficient?
An electoral system has three main aspects, offering three areas of potential change: a) the rules and mechanisms of translating votes into parliamentary seats, b) the size and shape of electoral constituencies and c) the form of ballot party lists.
Regarding the first aspect, there is a broad consensus between the two major parties, Pasok and ND, that remains unchanged, meaning that it has to aim at producing stable, one-party governments like the current one.
This leaves space for institutional changes in the other two areas only. Indeed, information published so far shows that, in respect to the second and third aspects above, there are thoughts of designing a more rational electoral map and using a pre-decided, closed party list of candidates, measures that are headed in the right direction.
However, even such a reform, which resembles a mere painkiller rather than a radical cure, entails a potentially dangerous tradeoff. Reforms in the constituencies and, most importantly, in the way MPs are elected, will inevitably further strengthen political party organisations and weaken the importance of the relationship between politicians and the electorate. Thus, for the painkiller to even work it has to be coupled with changes in party organisation, transparency, funding and mainly party culture. But major party elites seem unwilling to adopt such logic.
Therefore, the danger is that despite any reform the devaluation of the political system will deepen further and lead to a need for a shock treatment: the change of the electoral law towards a more proportional logic and the abandonment of the single-party government doctrine. This could alter the attitudes and interests of both political parties and voters, bring new players in the political arena and force responsibility onto some of the existing ones, who are now playing the game of political disobedience at no cost.
From this point of view, perhaps we should proceed to the shock treatment and skip the painkillers altogether…
By Yiannis Tsirbas, visiting lecturer in political science, University of Athens