Like much of the Greek media, foreign diplomats in Athens are attempting to decipher when the government will hold the general election, which at latest must occur in autumn, 2019, when the government’s term ends.
Diplomatic sources say that most embassies expect that it will come in May, when voters must choose local government officials (prefects, mayors and city councilors) and European Parliament Members.
The interior ministry is already running checks on electronic systems and is purchasing ballot boxes. It is also reviewing procedures that will limit delays as votes will be cast in at least three separate ballots (four if the general election is added.
Privately however, many foreign diplomats see a strong possibility of snap polls in March, as the “looser” vote in less polarised prefectural, local, and European Parliament Elections may have a decisive impact on voters’ choices in the general election, in which a substantial segment of SYRIZA’s base might choose to vote for smaller parties.
The Prime Minister’s advisors reportedly believe that they can intensify the climate of polarisation – which normally benefits the two largest parties and often crushes smaller ones – so as to effectively rally SYRIZA’s electoral base, which is much less consolidated than New Democracy’s at the moment.
Though foreign embassies rarely involve themselves publicly in domestic affairs, it is clear that SYRIZA has many reasons to be pleased by their treatment of the government.
Most notably, the American Embassy has been exceptionally friendly toward the current government, especially during the last two years, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ turn toward Washington.
However, it appears that there is a growing diplomatic consensus that the general election should be held sooner rather than later, so as to clear up the rather murky political and economic terrain.
The day after
Naturally, embassies in Athens are planning ahead for all eventualities in the post-election political scene, so as to avert political instability and to do what they can to support the new government, encouraging a long-term economic and investment plan that can ensure a climate favourable for foreign investment.
Though most believe no party will garner the percentage of the vote required to clinch a parliamentary majority (around 38 percent), so as not to depend on fragile political coalitions, they are concerned about the prospect that a lack of consensus in the election of the President of the Republic in 2020 by parliament could lead to the constitutionally mandated dissolution of the parliament and yet another general election.
For foreign investors and political players, a second general election in 2020 is the worst possible development, due to the accompanying political, and consequently economic instability.
Bridge over troubled water?
A key concern for internationals is the prospect of a fiscal derailment, which would jeopardise the entire economic stabilisation project and naturally the investment climate.
In that context, the key foreign players in Greece have begun to discuss which politicians as President could play the role of peacemaker in the furious clashes between SYRIZA and main opposition New Democracy. The objective is to achieve a consensus that will secure the broad parliamentary majority required in the election of the President.
The issue is of particular concern for ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who appears in all polls to be headed toward a victory over SYRIZA with a margin of at least ten percentage points.
If, as it now seems, he fails to secure a single-party parliamentary majority, he will have to find and propose a candidate that can garner the requisite two-thirds parliamentary majority (180 seats).