No matter how it plays out – whether Prime Minister and New Democracy Capitalist leader Antonis Samaras gets his hand-picked man and party VP Stavros Dimas elected Greek President – the sideshow spectacle that the process became brought ridicule and shame not just on the petty politicians, but yet again on a country still a punchline for economic ills around the world: “Is California the new Greece?”
There’s so much blame to spread around that if you could make it mustard there’d be enough to cover every pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in New York – they serve up 780,000 pounds a year – and still have plenty left over for the corned beef and rye.
Samaras made the miscalculation of waiting too long, until his shaky coalition government that includes the fast-fading PASOK Anti-Socialists, was embroiled in tough negotiations with the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) over 700 unfinished reforms and how to close a three billion euro hole in the 2015 budget.
That forced him to give up, for now, his plan for an early exit from the harsh terms of two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($306 billion) that the Troika demanded and left his flank open for the major opposition Coalition of the Looney Left (SYRIZA) to exploit.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who couldn’t run a hot dog stand but wants to govern the country, wants to thwart the election of Dimas and force early national elections with polls showing enough Greeks have given up on Samaras and don’t believe his self-proclaimed “success story” that they’d even prefer the Leftists, who don’t have a clue what to do with the economy.
Tsipras wants to revise the terms of the Troika memorandum, but is already backing away from his declaration that it would be his way or the highway and that he’d walk away from the debt unless the lenders buckled to him the way Samaras did to them.
The charges were flying between the two for weeks, while Samaras fiddled and left reforms undone instead of wrapping them up so that Tsipras wouldn’t have enough ammunition to make a case against the government’s plan to speed a looming recovery.
Samaras, in scaremongering style unfitting a Premier, said if SYRIZA came to power that there’d be a run on the banks, essentially striking terror in the hearts of Greek workers, pensioners and the poor who’ve been pummeled for four years while politicians, the rich and tax cheats have largely escaped sacrifice and are drinking wine from the skulls of austerity victims.
Tsipras responded with ribbons of ridiculous counter-attacks that portrayed Samaras as the Troika’s lap dog and it was getting so hot and heavy they looked like Groucho and Chico Marx tearing the Troika memorandum contract to pieces and finding out, “There ain’t no sanity clause!”
While this was going on, Samaras spooked the markets, sending the Athens Stock Exchange plummeting, just what he said Tsipras would do, and if the leaders of the Eurozone weren’t so mortified they would have found it funny what was going on in Greece, where politics ranges from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous. There is no sublime here.
But, this being Greece, there were more acts and they quickly turned surreal. Panos Kammenos, the chief of the tiny Independent Greeks (ANEL), a party he formed after bolting from New Democracy, has been dying to get at Samaras and jumped at the chance to back SYRIZA’s attempt to block Dimas.
Kammenos, who could slide off sandpaper, upped the ante when he backed a claim from one of his 12 Members of Parliament, former TV actor Pavlos Haikalis, that an intermediary for the government first offered him 700,000 euros and then two million euros to support Dimas.
The coalition government has only 155 votes between them and it requires 200 in a first or second round to elect a Greek President, a symbolic position that is essentially powerless and useless but threatens to bring down the government.
A third round, if it gets that far, lowers the threshold to 180 but Samaras got only 160 for his man in the first round and has been casting around for 20 more, but at two million euros a vote New Democracy would have to come up with 40 million euros if you believe this claptrap from Kammenos.
The rest of the plot, with some Independent MPs essentially saying those who voted for Dimas were on the take, and with the alleged middleman turning out to be a guy who reportedly worked for both New Democracy and ANEL and is shady enough to block out the sun, is more convoluted than the plot of the Big Sleep that was so meandering even its author, Raymond Chandler, didn’t know what the hell was going on. That’s okay because no one else here in Greece does either.
Early national elections, which would likely see SYRIZA win but have to form a coalition shakier than New Democracy-PASOK, aren’t the answer for Greece but Tsipras can’t see it and doesn’t care because he craves power more than the common good for the people he professes to care about.
But since all these people are shameless, it’s too bad the obvious answer isn’t available to Greeks at the polls – throw all the bums out and start over.