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19.07.2024
There are similarities and big differences between voting in Greece and the UK.
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When studying for my exam to become a Greek national, I learned that Greek citizens have a constitutional right to a personal, equal and secret vote in Greek elections. Having somehow passed the test and become a Greek citizen, (thank you Greece!) I now must decide how to cast my personal, equal and secret vote on 21 May 2023 and, possibly again six weeks later, on 2 July.

My wife, Evvie, who is Greek, sometimes reminds methat I am a Greek citizen, not Greek! Like many of the things Evvie tells me this statement is brutal but honest. Evvie knows for whom she will vote. She has no doubts. Her political views are formed by a lifetime of living in Greece, as well as the influence of family traditions and history. Being British by birth, my experiences, upbringing and influences are different and, as the election approaches, I do not know whom to vote for.

Unsure

It is not that I am uninterested. I follow politics closely and know the issues – the cost-of-living crisis, Greek-Turkish relations, government wiretapping etc. I also know the parties, their histories and their leaders. To become a Greek citizen, I had to learn, and I am glad that I did. My politics are centre-left, and I am a member of the UK Labour party. But UK politics does not map directly onto Greek politics.

Although the Conservatives in the UK and New Democracy in Greece are both centre-right parties they are very different. It is difficult to imagine New Democracy taking Greece out of the European Union (EU) as the Conservative party did with the UK. And like him or not, New Democracy’s leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the current prime minister, is not Boris Johnson (thank you God!). The UK Conservative party currently has more in common with Kyriakos Velopoulos’ right-wing Greek Solution party, with the big exception that, in the UK, the Conservatives are the government.

In the UK, the progressive centre-left is shared by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in Scotland. Except for the SNP, which is supported by anyone who wants to separate from England, there is some overlap between the UK parties and the Greek progressive parties Syriza and Pasok. Like Syriza, Labour has its roots in the working class but is also supported by university educated professionals. The UK’s Liberal Democrats tend to be strong in wealthy rural areas, but do not have Pasok’s strong support among farmers.

My sense is that many Greeks are sympathetic to centre-left policies, but they do not entirely trust either Syriza led by Alexi Tsipras, or Pasok led by Nikos Androulakis. They associate both parties with the deep recession and austerity policies of the Greek financial crisis. The crisis began in 2009 when Pasok was in power, but some believe, that Tsipras made things worse after becoming prime minster in 2015, by choosing ill-tempered confrontation with the EU in a poorly judged attempt to renegotiate the terms of the financial bailout. As for the other two left-wing parties, the Greek Communists seem interested in opposition rather than government, while Mera25, led by Ioanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s finance minister during the ill-fated negotiations with the EU in 2015,does not have widespread support.

Confused

The voting system in Greece is also very different. The UK has a very simple ‘first-past-the-post’ system and only one round. Basically, the country is cut up into 650 areas, called constituencies, and (except in Northern Ireland where the system is proportional) whoever obtains most votes in each constituency is the winner. A majority is not needed. It doesn’t matter if second and third have 25,000 votes each. If you have 25,001 you are first and you win. The party that wins most constituencies forms the government. In the UK, each constituency is represented by one MP, whereas Greece has 50 multimember and 9 single member constituencies.

The UK has used its system for more than 70 years. In contrast, the Greek voting system has changed six times since 1974, alternating between simple and reinforced proportional representation where the biggest party receives a ‘bonus’ of additional seats. This time Greek politicians seem to have gone out of their way to make the system as complicated as possible by using both systems in the same election. Many of my Greek friends are also confused.

As far as I can tell, the first vote on 21 May will be based on simple proportional representation. If no party can form a government, either by itself or in a coalition, then there will be a second vote on 2 July, based on reinforced proportional representation. The party coming first will receive a 20-seat bonus if it gets more than 25 percent of the vote. This bonus will increase the higher the party’s percentage of the vote, up to a maximum of 50 bonus seats.

How all this will work out I have no idea. Only New Democracy seems capable of winning a majority to govern alone, but this will be difficult. As for a coalition, good luck with that. Pasok’s Androulakis has said he will not work with either New Democracy’s Mitsotakis, or Syriza’s Tsipras. And there is no way that Mitsotakis and Tsipras could ever work together in this world, and probably not even in the next.

Unsure and confused

Personal dislike among party leaders is not exclusively Greek. In the UK, Labour party leader, Kier Starmer, and Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak seem to despise each other. But the lack of any common ground between the parties in Greece, and the likely outcome being a coalition of some sort, leaves me not only unsure about for whom to vote, but also confused about what I am voting for.

Faced with the choice of ‘stability’ offered by and New Democracy and the ‘change’ promised by Syriza and Pasok, I think, after a decade that included a financial crisis and a pandemic, Greeks would like both. Greeks want change, but at the same time are suspicious of it. They want change to be stable and predictable. But change always has winners and losers and no one in Greece wants to be the ‘joker’ where others take advantage at their expense.

I will vote. It is an honour for me to do so, but for whom and for what I do not yet know. Evvie knows, on that issue she is brutal but honest.

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