Sunday, April 29, 2012

Far From The Madding Crowd - Election campaigning Greek style

Setting up sound  stage for PASOK election rally by Teacher Dude's BBQ

Today at 6pm  Evangelos Venizelos, the head of PASOK and till recently the leader of the largest party in the Greek parliament will be addressing voters in the northern port city of Thessaloniki. The picture, taken yesterday shows technicians busily setting up stage inside the port in order to be ready for today's' rally. 

However, what the photograph really shows is that the current crisis in mainstream politics caused by five years of recession and three years of austerity has overturned nearly every aspect of election campaigning. In days gone by any political leader worth their salt would have organised a massive public meeting in Aristotelous Square, an event to which the party faithful from all over Northern Greece would come and for hours would be whipped up into a frenzy in anticipation of the arrival of their leader. (see photos from 2009 elections here).

PASOK party rally in Greece for the 2009 European elections

Even when the leaders were as lacklustre as Giorgos Papandreou and Kostas Karamanlis, the party supporters could be relied upon to put on a good show for the TV camera in the hope of swaying voters at home.But no longer. The two largest parties, PASOK and New Democracy cannot rely upon, or even completely trust their own voters. Over the last two years the numbers of attacks on politicians appearing on public have risen exponentially and although most involve little more than jeering and the throwing of yogurt others have turned much more violent. However, even worse than the possibility of violence is the damaging PR effect of TV images showing a candidates in front of hostile audience.

With the parties limited to using TV and internet to get their pre-election message across, preserving the fiction that they still enjoy mass support becomes even more important. Hence the choice of venue shown in the picture. It allows police and party media handlers to carefully control access and it's position far from the Thessaloniki's main streets means that protesters can be kept of sight and earshot.

Also the narrow space (it's the jetty pointing out to sea in Google Maps shot above) means that even a few  hundred people can be, with the right angles and lenses be made to look like an adoring crowd. Also since it is outdoors Venizelos can claim (at least on TV) that he is still popular enough to appear in public. What viewers will not see will the thousands of police on duty making sure that Venizelos can appear unmolested outdoors. Claiming to represent the will of the people whilst hiding behind rows of baton wielding riot police is not the carefully honed media message PASOK wants to send to voters on the eve of such an important vote.

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