Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Democracy goes to the polls

Once again Greece goes to the polls, this time to elect the leader of the conservative opposition party, New Democracy. It's perhaps an indication on how the main stream media and the country's party political system feed off each other that even leadership battles get the kind of TV, radio and print coverage that other places reserve for coups, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. For weeks now TV screens have been full of thoughts, speeches and interviews of the candidates who have toured Greece endlessly in the race for votes.

It's hard to believe from all the triumphal talk from the three main contenders is that their party suffered its worst defeat in a generation in October's general elections. Their disasterous second term which lasted less than two years was marked by a seemingly endless stream of gaffes and scandals which allowed the opposition socialist PASOK party to gain an unprecedented parliamentary majority.

Also there has been little discussion of how the Greek economy has been ended up with massive debt load and a level of competiveness that ranks below Kazahstan and Botswana. Despite being elected in 2004 on a anti - corruption ticket, then prime minister Kostas Karamanlis burnt through his party's political capital even quicker than the government's borrowed billions after his re-election in 2007. Economic meltdown, dozens of graft scandals, country wide riots and massive forest fires finally convinced voters that New Democracy's slick PR machine was just hot air.

Dora Bakoyianni, daughter of ex-prime minister Costas Mitsotakis, Antonis Samaras, New Democracy's prodigal son and Thessaloniki's own Berlusconi lite, Panagiotis Psomiadis are all standing today though the real battle is between Bakoyianni and Samaras who seem to have rougly the same level of support.

Not that anyone really knows as Greece's pollers have refused to take part in any opinion polls citing lack of transparency in deciding who votes. How can you choose a representative sample of voters when nobody really knows who is voting? Over the last month candidates have been engaged in a bitter battle over how the leader of New Democracy will be elected with the kind of manouvering that would have brought a nostalgic tear to Machiavelli's eye. Finally, the answer has been a ill-conceived voting system which is tailor made for manipulation and corruption. Supposedly anyone, anywhere (and that includes the whole planet, apparently) can take part in the election via the internet.

Already New Democracy's internet site has collapsed under the weight of those wishing to vote leading outsider, Panayiotis Psomiadis to go public with accusations of underhand dealing, intimidation and manipulation. Not that Psomiadis stands any chance to being elected but he does worry that if one of the two main candidates wins on the first round, his role as king/queen maker will be made redundant.

The polls close at 8pm tonight so there's plenty more room for drama before all this over.

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