Monday 17 June 2013

Greek Elections?

The truth is that Greece can ill afford an election right now and if one is caused chances are that there would be a second too. The political landscape is changing very rapidly in Greece and Europe should take note. Troika made a huge mistake thinking that the current political system can reform Greece. Sooner or later they would have to face up to this. The rise of extreme left and the fascists vote is a direct consequence of letting PASOK and ND handle the reforms. 
Just as you thought that Greece is out of the picture and that everything is going smooth, a succession of events placed Athens back in sunlight. First a failed privatization and next the shutdown of the state TV fuelled speculation of an early election in Greece once more.
GazProm failed to bid for DEPA.
One of the basic building blocks of the Greek stabilization program is the sale/privatization of state enterprises to raise cash. The once very ambitious 50bln sale has been scaled down or rather, recalculated on reality and not on fiction. Part of the plan involved the state Gas enterprise DEPA and DESFA the national gas operator. The government hoped to get around 1.5bln from the sale of both of them. Mind you the money does not go towards the national budget but in a special escrow owned by the creditors of Greece.
When the sale sign was put up by the government however international investors failed to flock in. Only Gazprom the giant Russian company hinted that it would bid. This is where the plot darkens and thickens. Gazprom as everyone would tell you virtually own a monopoly in Europe and getting Europe to agree to such a sale was always difficult. But there are further twists in the plot and it involves the two proposed gas pipes, Nabucco and TAP (TransAdriaticPipeline). Nabucco is favored by USA and Europe and TAP was a compromise solution. TAP would reach Italy through Greece from Turkey and it would also supply Bulgaria and other south Eastern European countries.
In the end, Gazprom never showed up for the Greek sale. According to press reports they did not even bother to send an email saying that they are not interested. Part of the reason is surely the messy state of the Greek DEPA which is still owed hundreds of millions of unpaid bills. But most observers agree that the long hand of the European commission was at play here. It seems that the EU whistled to Russia that it would not at this stage approve such a change of ownership. Furthermore, there are added complications in Syria where the West wants to step up the arming of the anti-government forces against the will of Russia. In other words Europe and the US applied the pressure in order to get a geostrategic message across to Putin.
So Greece was caught in a game of chess that was played far above their heads. The Greek PM Mr Samaras was humiliated as he had made the sale a personal project. Moreover, the sale failure destroyed the spin that the government was placing on a recovery scenario. Greece looked gloomy and the GGB reflected this by selling off.
Annihilating the state Media ERT
Something had to be done and the Greek PM decided on a double down strategy. He ordered the closure of the state owned Media (TV, Radio) ERT and the firing of close to 3000 journalists, technicians and administrative staff.  The plan was to reopen the state media in a few months but with a much reduced headcount. That decision fell like a nuclear bomb in Greece. Journalists went berserk. After all it is they who control the media and it is their jobs.
International media went bananas too. They saw that as an infringement on free speech and democracy. The truth is somewhat different. The public media was never public. It was always government media. Successive governments used the state media more or less like Sadam used his Iraqi information minister Mr Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf who famously declared that there are no Americans in Bagdad just as the US tank rolled behind him. Most of the Greeks love to hate the state owned ERT. They know it is a corrupt organization that produces mostly unwatchable content (there are exceptions of course) but having an equally corrupt party (New Democracy) taking the moral high ground is too much to bear. Few would doubt that the new organization would be staffed using the Generally Agreed Practices of corruption and nepotism and as a result they are angry that are left out.
All TV media in Greece are illegal
What makes the whole think farcical is that the government closed the ONLY legally operating TV channel in Greece!! All the private stations in Greece operate more or less like pirates. There was never any auction of frequencies or licenses. Simply some local oligarchs opened a TV station to serve their own interests and got some temporary license. So, if the Greek PM wants to have a level playing field it should close all the private stations too, pending an auction.
Elections? Probably not in the near future.
The current government is a coalition of three parties. Neither PASOK nor DHMAR can afford to bring down the government. For all the noise they are making PASOK would have a hard time getting the 3% to enter the parliament and DHMAR would lose out from SYRIZA (Left). On the other hand Samaras party (ND) might gain from his right and the fascists. Thus it would be imprudent for PASOK to leave the coalition now. More likely a compromise solution would be found for PASOK to save face.
Samaras managed to polarize the political climate and polarization in times of emergency always helps the government. He is playing high poker here, but he holds many cards in his hands. Even if PASOK causes elections, chances are that Samaras would increase his votes. He would claim that Greece needs a stable government and he is the one that can deliver it. In the polls his party is still ahead and his personal appeal is still high. His main threat comes from the rise of the fascists. Showing intransigence and stubbornness may help him win approval from his right.