How to talk with your Greek friends about the Greek elections

How to talk with your Greek friends about the Greek elections

Get an ouzo and mention the name of a party leader to your Greek friends. You might be surprised what happens next. Since you’re hungry for details, here are some pointers to help you navigate a conversation that could be loud, contentious and fun. Elections are basically a national sport, so join in!

Greece may be a full-fledged parliamentary republic, but that doesn’t mean its elections are boring. Since the end of the Junta, the military dictatorship from 1967-1974, Greece has been swept from right to left and back again in a series of dramatic and nail-biting elections. Every time Greece goes to the polls, the heart of the nation beats with renewed vigour, as the very questions of democracy and the rule of law raised at the start of the Third Hellenic Republic are brought back to the front of the newspapers and all of our minds.

The main political parties you should know:

  • The incumbent liberal conservative party New Democracy (Nea Dimokratia) Leadership: Kyriakos Mitsotakis
  • The main opposition Coalition of the Radical Left SYRIZA (Synaspismós Rizospastikís Aristerás) Leadership: Alexis Tsipras
  • The new incarnation of the socialist PASOK party Movement for Change (Kinima Allagis) Leadership: Nikos Androulakis
  • Communist Party of Greece (KKE or Kommounistikó Kómma Elládas) Leadership: Dimitris Koutsoumpas
  • Greek Solution (Ellinikí Lýsi) Leadership: Kyriakos Velopoulos
  • European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRa25 Μέτωπο Ευρωπαϊκής Ρεαλιστικής Ανυπακοής)Leadership: Yanis Varoufakis

On 8 February 2023 Parliament voted to ban the far-right National Party party from running in the elections. New Democracy and PASOK voted for the ban, while the Communist Party of Greece, Greek Solution and MeRA25 voted against, and Syriza voted present. The bill is expected to be passed by Parliament on April 11, 2023.

What’s different this time round?

This year will be no different, and yet there are new dynamics at play that will make this another closely watched election, even if we no longer believe for the first time in a decade that the future of Europe itself is at stake. For the first time, the Greek diaspora has the opportunity to vote, and it’s anyone’s guess who, and for whom, the ballots will drop.

What’s this about two rounds of voting?

Unlike some national legislatures, all the 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament are contested in every election – but this one comes with a historic change. The election on May 21 marks the first since 1990 in which the electoral system will not use a bonus seats system. The results will be determined by a proportional system in which seats in the parliament are rewarded to a party strictly based on the number of votes they get, so that they need to win 50% of the vote in order to earn the right to assemble a government or else build a coalition that will reach that magic number. That’s why a second ballot may be necessary – and is expected – if the first vote fails to produce a majority or multiparty coalition.

Confused? The confusion can be credited to SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left that ruled Greece from 2015-2019, which approved the change nearly 7 years ago. SYRIZA’s 2016 legislation ditched the previous 50-seat majority bonus awarded to the top vote-getting party which had been in place since 1990. Legislation approved by the New Democracy government after it took power in 2019 restored the majority bonus, but the legislation did not have enough votes for immediate effect, hence it applies to the second election that will likely happen in late June but not the first in May. These will be two complete separate elections (not a run-off) under two different set of rules, And yet, based on current polling, no one knows for sure whether a government will be formed from the second election.

What’re the issues at stake?

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived just as Greece was beginning to recover from the ten-year economic crisis that devastated employment and wages, and many young Greeks left the country looking for opportunities abroad. The pandemic called for major reforms across the government. The New Democracy government was credited with an effective campaign promoting safety and vaccinations, as well as using the time to promote the digitalization of state services. Greece can often feel like a different place in 2023 than it was in 2019. That is also the start of much anxiety, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the rise of energy and food prices continued to skyrocket, and housing prices were left unchecked and have begun to price out many Greeks from the home buying and renting market and still without the implementation of a comprehensive housing policy. The cost-of-living crisis is global, and the local shockwaves will surely be felt during the election.

All of this comes on top of a spying scandal that burst into view in the summer of 2022 when a leader of PASOK discovered that his phone had been infected by a stealth phone surveillance service sold by an international defense contractor, and at the same time had his phone tapped by the Greek Intelligence Service. Since those fateful weeks, hundreds of similar cases have been revealed, including politicians from both parties, journalists, human rights activists, and non-political employees of international corporations. There are still very few answers and many questions about the wiretaps.

The railway crash on February 28th aggravated existing public anger over the lack of government investment in key infrastructure projects, especially upgrades to safety and improvements to the delivery of government projects on time and on budget. While the problems with the railways are undoubtedly a result of a decade of austerity, many Greeks rightly believe that the government needs to change the way it does business to prove its commitment to the dignity of its people and especially the youth. Accusations of government negligence sparked nationwide strikes and protests, the largest Athens has seen in a decade.

Who can vote?

Voters need to be Greek citizens, over the age of 17, and registered at the voting rolls in a municipality or community in Greece.

The big change this year is the arrival of Greek citizens living outside Greece onto the voting rolls for the first time ever. The 2019 legislation passed by New Democracy offers  the right to vote from their host nation rather than make the long trip back to the home country.The Law of Return means one is Greek on an intergenerational level, and expected to serve in the Hellenic Armed Forces, so if you can serve, their argument goes, then you should be able to vote from wherever you live.

Greece is reliant on its Diaspora – politically, intellectually, economically and culturally – and many in the Diaspora believe that Greece cannot ignore its overseas citizens. Lip service to Greeks living abroad by visiting officials no longer cuts it. Opposition parties are nervous – paranoia and instinct- suggests to them that the Greeks abroad are more conservative. Many in the Diaspora are ambiguous, others are concerned that their natural political biases, often the residues of Greece’s rhetorical and partisan politics, many past, and recent crises, will vote on instinct not policies.

So far, only 4,000 Greeks abroad have registered to vote.

How to register to vote?

The process of registration in the relevant electoral rolls is relatively simple. The law passed in December 2019 stipulates that voters who have lived in Greece for at least two years in the last 35 years and have submitted a tax return have the right to be registered in the electoral rolls, even if the declaration is nil.

To certify that someone has lived in Greece for two years in the last 35 years, specific public documents are required as evidence:

Certificate of attendance from a primary, secondary, post-secondary, technical, or vocational school or from a higher education institution.
Certificate of payment of national insurance contributions (stamps).
Certificate of completion of military service for as long as it lasts.

Greek citizens who live or study abroad and are under 30 years old can be registered in the relevant electoral rolls without having submitted a tax return, provided that a first-degree relative has submitted one during the current or previous tax year.

In order to be able to register, the voter must first register and log in to the application. To be able to use the application, the voter must first register as a user and fill in the email address, through which they will receive the answer for the application they will submit.

Our advice: In the lead-up to the elections, make sure to keep your ouzo handy. Whether the outlook matches the cloudiness of your ouzo glass, or the naïve optimism of the freshly inebriated, it’ll help you imbue the intoxicating spirit of elections a la ellinika.

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