Greece’s Byzantine politics out in the open during vote run-up
ATHENS A FRUITLESS vote in Greece on May 6 followed by abortive coalition talks may have infuriated Greeks and baffled outsiders — but it has also given a rare glimpse into the country’s Byzantine politics.
Over four days, venerable President Carolos Papoulias tried to get political leaders to halt their bickering long enough to save the country from paralysis by agreeing on a unity cabinet without recourse to a new ballot.
The effort failed, making fresh elections on June 17 a necessity.
But thanks to minutes taken at the series of meetings, a veil was lifted on the inner workings of the country’s opaque political processes for the first time in decades.
In the run-up to the May 6 election, Greek party chiefs — mostly seen railing from balconies or crossing swords in parliament — had failed to find enough common ground to hold a televised debate.
But the presidential meetings more than compensated for that.
“It’s the debate that never happened,” said Manolis Alexakis, a political sociologist at the University of Crete.
“And the fact that minutes were kept ensured that a certain decorum was maintained,” he said.
Bullish Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, until recently finance minister, offered a blunt appraisal of eurozone power politics.
“Nobody will tell you that the eurozone is about to break up, or that a firewall is being put in place in case a country wants to leave,” he warned his fellow leaders.
Europeans “say one thing and do another,” Venizelos charged.
Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, chastened by a double-digit drop in his party ratings compared to the 2009 election, spoke but little.
“I think each of us should be prepared to compromise,” he said.
Their main rival Alexis Tsipras, the effusive 37-yearold whose radical Syriza leftists rode a wave of anti-austerity anger to second place on May 6, could barely contain his elation at his party’s new-found influence.
“We are bound by the 1,061,000 votes we got in these elections,” Tsipras said, insisting on his pledge to tear up Greece’s EU-IMF bailout deal.
“There is no political legitimacy to continue the austerity programme. The medicine is worse than the disease, it is killing the Greek economy,” he said. President Papoulias repeatedly tried to instill a sense of urgency.
“We shall all be judged very harshly if the ongoing political instability has fateful consequences,” the 82-year-old warned on May 13 as the final round of talks began, according to the minutes of the meetings released by his office.
“The difference in your positions is insignificant compared to your debt to the homeland,” said Papoulias, warning of low cash reserves, bank jitters and “agonised” calls by European leaders demanding a solution.