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Coalition governments

Coalition governments

A country that is a member of NATO and in the core of the European Union – the eurozone – with a stable geopolitical orientation, that for half a century has left behind its great political divisions and authoritarian deviations, that is free from the terrorism and serious crime that plague other developed countries – is such a country secure politically? Not necessarily – some say – if it finds itself without a government. Where “without a government” is defined by those same people as the absence of a single-party majority government.

According to this narrative, a coalition government supported by large popular majorities would usher in the “devil” of instability, while a government that achieves an absolute majority through a ballot-rigging electoral law is the true definition of a “holy” stability. The narrative, of course, ignores recent Greek history.

It was the majority government of conservative premier Kostas Karamanlis that pushed the country over the cliff in 2009. It was the majority government of socialist prime minister George Papandreou which collapsed in 2011 during the Greek debt crisis. In contrast, it was a coalition government under former central banker Lucas Papademos that successfully negotiated with the country’s private lenders a 50% haircut of what they were owed, in 2011.

And it was its mandatory cooperation with socialist PASOK that obliged New Democracy in 2012 to abandon its overly ambitious economic plans and try to implement the second bailout – and it probably would have succeeded if the election for a new president had not cut its term short. It was also a coalition government between leftist SYRIZA and the populist right of the Independent Greeks that brought the country out of the bailouts. A majority government is not a political panacea, nor is a coalition government “political hell.” The narrative ignores the actual lessons Greece has learned.

Closed government schemes, one-party or person-centered, lend themselves to behind-the-scenes clashes and machinations rather than deals made in the open

The same logic, of the small and supposedly flexible government scheme, in the name of effective governance, was the rationale behind the superpowers given to the (famous at first, infamous later on) so-called “executive state” (in which the prime minister’s office coordinates the work of government and the central administration). But it turned out that a system sterile of debate, consultation processes and accountability, instead of producing positive results pushed us backward. Closed government schemes, one-party or person-centered, lend themselves to behind-the-scenes clashes and machinations rather than deals made in the open. They also easily mutate into hotbeds of corruption and exchanges of favors.

This narrative also ignores the European experience. In Europe, coalition governments and democracies based on consensus dominate the political landscape. Single-party majority governments are the exception and tend to decline. In fact, a characteristic of coalition governments, as can be seen from such examples in about 30 European countries, is that ideological affinity and similar programs are not prerequisites for a cooperation. Instead, an honest agreement on the government’s program is enough – either in pre-election or post-election negotiations.

Of course, objections are raised arguing that “we do not have a culture of political cooperation” in Greece and that we do not have adequately strong state mechanisms that would ensure that the country continues to operate independently of the respective government – as in other countries. As far as the state mechanisms’ strength is concerned, the reason we don’t have a growth- and citizen-friendly state is because successive single-party majority governments have used the state to promote a spoils system (see today the army of non-permanent staff employed at ministries and other bodies).

A single-party majority prevents the modernization of the state. Even the deluge of apps issued by the Digital Governance Ministry have left clientelism intact. The culture of collaboration exists, but it needs to be strengthened. And this is the critical condition for political stability: the full acceptance of political cooperation – not some cartoonish “majority.”

Source : Kostas Kallitsis Σύνδεσμος

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