Strange bedfellows

The final results of the Greek elections came in early this morning. SYRIZA garnered 149 seats in parliament, two short of a majority, and is entering a coalition with Independent Greeks to form a government. SYRIZA is a more-or-less radical left-wing party, while Independent Greeks is a nationalist-populist right-wing party whose leader, Panos Kammenos, espouses racist, homophobic, antisemitic and occasionally outright lunatic views (such as plane exhaust trails in the sky being unspecified chemical spraying.) This is as if Podemos were forming a coalition with UKIP. How can that happen and what can we expect to happen next? Here’s my two drachmas.  Continue reading


Greek elections 2015: a quick rundown of the electoral system

The Greek parliament has 300 members. 12 of those are elected on a nationwide ballot and 288 in electoral districts. The electoral districts match the administrative division of nomoi, except for the two largest nomoi, Attica and Thessaloniki, which are broken down into smaller electoral districts (five and two respectively).  This means that each party submits a list of 12 nationwide candidates, plus any number of local candidates in each district. Nationwide candidates are elected in order of priority, while voters get to tick the names of local candidates they want to see elected.

Another important specificity of the Greek electoral law is that 250 MPs are elected on the basis of a strictly proportional ballot, but the remaining 50 seats are given as a bonus to the party that garners the largest number of valid votes. 

For voters, this means that the ballot they cast contributes to three things:

  • By casting a ballot for a specific party, voters contribute to the percentage of the vote garnered by that party and therefore to the possibility that this party gets the 50-seat bonus.
  • By casting a ballot for a specific party, voters contribute to electing one or more of the 12 nationwide candidates put forward by that party in the order of priority they were listed.
  • By ticking the names of 1, 2, 3 or 4 local candidates (depending on the size of the electoral district), voters contribute to making the specific candidate(s) more likely to be elected. Voters can choose not to tick any names at all, in which case their vote will still count towards the first two items above.

Abstention, blank and null votes are not taken in consideration, so the distribution of parliament seats is based exclusively on the number of valid votes garnered by each party.

The last important specificity of the Greek electoral system is that parties are required to garner 3% or more of the vote in order to enter parliament. This is extremely important because, the larger the number of votes for parties that do not reach this 3% threshold, the lowest the number of votes required for the first party to secure an absolute majority (151 seats) in parliament.

Therefore, to determine the percentage of nationwide votes needed to secure a majority, you should deduct from 100% the percentage of valid votes obtained by parties that did not reach the 3% threshold and multiply the percentage left by 0.404.


In the 06 May 2012 elections, parties that did not reach the 3% threshold obtained 19.03% of votes. This means that a party with as little as 32.71% of votes could secure a majority in parliament. In these elections, New Democracy garnered the largest number of votes at 18.85%, meaning only 108 seats, thus the repeat elections of June 2012.

In June 2012, only 5.99% of the valid votes went to parties that did not reach the 3% threshold. This means that New Democracy, with 29.66% of the vote, got 129 parliament seats, and was able to form a coalition with PASOK (12.28%, 33 seats) and DIMAR (6.25%, 17 seats.) These three parties garnered among themselves only 48.19% of the vote, but they had a 179-seat majority in parliament. Conversely, SYRIZA had then garnered 26.89% of the vote but had only 71 seats.

There is no system of proxy voting, early voting or postal voting in Greece, meaning that Greeks living abroad or living away from the place where they are registered as voters have no option but to travel to their electoral district to vote. Travel will be undertaken at the voter’s expense, unless political parties choose to subsidize travel for their voters.
It must also be noted that the 50-seat bonus for the first party is designed in a way that puts coalitions of parties at a disadvantage. The average percentage of votes garnered by coalition members must be higher than the percentage of votes garnered by the first single party (the average being calculated as the total percentage of votes garnered by the coalition divided by the number of parties constituting the coalition).
If a coalition of 5 parties earns 50% of the vote while the single largest party earns 20% of the vote, the average percentage of votes garnered by the coalition will be 10%. The 50-seat bonus will therefore go to the single largest party.

Why I’m taking it personally

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been going to bed at night and waking up in the morning thinking of a person I have never met and will likely never meet. I hardly know anything about the man himself. I only know that his name is Kostas Sakkas, that he’s 29 years old and that he was a university student until December 2010. That’s a lot less than what I knew about all the people I wrote letters for when I was a campaigner for Amnesty International.

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#rbnews international show 22 June 2013: Happy birthday Mr. Prime Minister

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the formation of the coalition government in June 2012 (and of the day when it lost one of its three member parties), we discussed its achievements (or lack thereof) over the past year with @tsimitakis and @YiannisBab.You can listen to the podcast, as usual, after the jump.

More truths and lies about ERT: was government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou an ERT employee?

In the statement he delivered in the evening of Tuesday 11 June on behalf of the government, when the shutdown of Greece’s public broadcaster ERT was officially announced, spokesman Simos Kedikoglou justified the government’s decision by saying, among other things: “The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, ERT, is a typical case of unique opacity and incredible waste of public money (…) It is governed by opacity in the sector of contract management.”

The irony of this statement was not lost on ERT staff, who were prompt to note that Simos Kedikoglou was himself recruited as an ERT journalist in 1995, at a time when his father, Vasilis Kedikoglou, was a member of parliament with then-governing party PASOK. This was also denounced by SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, in response to whom Kedikoglou’s office published a statement, that was reported by To Ethnos newspaper on 14 June:
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Truths and lies about ERT: A former news director answers the Prime Minister’s claims

On 16 June, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wrote a long opinion piece for the Sunday edition of newspaper Kathimerini (which, incidentally, was published despite the fact that all media were officially on strike) to justify his decision to shut down Greece’s public broadcaster ERT. Former ERT news director Giorgos Kogiannis wrote in turn an answer to the Prime Minister on the newly established ERT workers’ blog, in which he points out several contradictions between Samaras’s claims and some actual facts and emphasizes that Samaras’s criticism of ERT should apply, first and foremost, to his own choices and those of his entourage. We are summarizing this indirect dialogue below.

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The Council of State ruling about ERT: what on earth does it mean?

Last night the Council of State issued a ruling which was hailed as overturning common ministerial decision  OIK 02/11.06.2013 that shut down with immediate effect Greece’s public broadcaster ERT, leaving TV watchers in front of a black screen. The Council of State specifically orders:

1. That enforcement of the common ministerial decision is suspended “exclusively with regard to those items pertaining to a) the interruption of transmissions of radio and television signals and of operations of websites owned by ERT, and b) the fact that ERT frequencies should remain inactive (article 2, § 2, item b of the common ministerial decision).”

2. That competent ministers [i.e. the Minister of Finance and the Minister of State responsible for media affairs] should take “necessary organizational measures for the resumption of radio and television signal transmissions and the operation of websites owned by a public broadcaster until the establishment of a new agency which will serve the public interest, as stipulated in article 1 § 2 of the common ministerial decision.”

But what does this mean in practice?

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ERT shutdown – Round-up of developments 13 June 2013

Protests continued today across Greece to protest the government’s abrupt decision in the evening of Tuesday 11 June to shut down public radio and television broadcaster ERT (see here and here). Several labour unions called for a general strike today, including the civil servants’ union ADEDY, the General Confederation of Labour GSEE and communist-affiliated PAME. The media strike, which started yesterday for radio and television stations, extended today to newspapers. As a result all media except ERT and media re-transmitting ERT were on strike. A large demonstration took place in front of the ERT headquarters in the morning, while several other rallies and protests were held in other cities and towns across Greece and abroad (photo gallery below). The media strike in Greece will continue tomorrow, with journalists’ unions calling upon all unions and citizens to support not only ERT with protecting the compound but also to ensure that media tycoons cannot whip up support or intimidate workers to break the strike in privately-owned media. The journalists’ unions further call upon all internet-based media to embed the ERT broadcast in their websites.

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