November 3rd, 2011
07:08 PM ET

Greece's legitimacy crisis

Editor's Note: Thomas Meaney is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University and an editor of The Utopian. Harris Mylonas is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas.

By Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas – Special to CNN

In the past 48 hours, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has succeeded in one thing: Stirring up the anger of nearly everyone around him. The European Union, his own party PASOK, the opposition party New Democracy and the Greek electorate are all pitted against Papandreou. The Greeks have a word for this special brand of rage - they call it “thymos”. This refers to the simmering resentment that arises when one's views are not recognized.

It’s little wonder Papandreou has had to back down from his initial call for a national referendum on the 50% haircut deal decided by the European Union heads of state on October 27.

First off, he failed to get the opposition to agree to the referendum. They called it blackmail, denounced Papandreou as an opportunist and asked for a grand coalition government or immediate elections. Main opposition leader Antonis Samaras’ consensus on Thursday was short-lived and with many conditions.

Meanwhile, the European leaders - French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel - called Papandreou’s bluff. 'Go ahead and make our day,' they told him. “Imagine what would happen if we called a referendum on the bailout in our countries?' The International Monetary Fund, for its part, threatened to freeze all of its loans to Greece.

Finally, for Papandreou’s party PASOK the situation is even more dire. Instead of shoring up support from his own party members, the referendum only emboldened cries for his resignation — including from his own Ministers and PASOK Parliamentarians.

Papandreou has recalled his decision for a referendum because he failed in all fronts and it’s become clear that he can no longer be part of the solution.

There are three possible ways the crisis will play out.  First, Papandreou could refuse to resign and possibly win the no-confidence vote Friday. This is unlikely since his overall support has reached its all-time low. The second, more likely scenario is that Papandreou loses the vote tomorrow and the President of the Hellenic Republic, Karolos Papoulias, turns to the other political party leaders to determine if the existing Parliament could form a government. The final scenario, if these efforts fail to build a government, would be new elections, as called for by the Greek Constitution. But it is most likely that a one-party government will not emerge from these elections.

The only way out of these three scenarios is to form a Grand Coalition government. What is a Grand Coalition government? In multi-party parliamentary systems, sometimes one-party governments cannot form. In such instances, coalition governments are often formed including more than one party in order to secure a Parliamentary majority, manage to form a government and pass legislation.

Greece’s history with such governments in the late 1980s does not exactly inspire faith, and the global stakes were smaller then. A grand coalition would entail the cooperation of all the political parties that are in favor of a European future for Greece. They would be ready to support the austerity measures needed to balance the Greek budget and overcome the solvency problem, but most importantly they would be the the parties that can agree on the composition of such a government. This last feature of a Grand Coalition is particularly valuable at a time when consensus-building in the Greek parliament has become nearly impossible.

What remains left out of this discussion is the Greek people. They voted two years ago for a party running on an anti-austerity platform and this is not what they received. Perhaps the current political system is afraid to hear their message. "Thymos" may not be the best state of mind to make choices.

Regardless, the greek political leadership's ownership of the austerity program and responsible governance are necessary steps toward resolving Greece's legitimacy crisis, which would then allow them to confront the Greek people with the responsibility they must take in order to end the financial crisis.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas.

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Topics: Economy • Elections • Europe • Greece

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Aristotle had always warned against "thymos", especially when it was expressed en masse. Hence the power of the people wouldn't be democracy but tyranny.
    With a 50% haircut, the Greeks are still better off than their peers in Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

    November 3, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Not at all-they would be on the road to slavery which is based on debt .The EU is becoming more like the former Soviet Union trying to create a new Euroman with no religion, no national culture, globalistic viewpoint with the Politburo in Brussells in charge. Greeks need to get out of EU , default and move their economy in a different direction. I believe it will happen or blood will flow in Athens.

      November 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  2. Paul Johnston, PhD Economics

    Paul Johnston, PhD Economics, Athens

    November 4, 2011 at 2:20 am | Reply
    • Johnson

      The true villains in this epic are the Greek people who have failed to pay taxes yet squeezed every cent out of the counrty and the European Union. Germany technically owns Greece now; however, it is a property I would send to the consignment store. Who would want to invest anything in a country with no respect for debts or finanical obligations.

      November 4, 2011 at 7:50 am | Reply
    • Reiner

      What cerial box did you get your PHD from ? Fool.

      November 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  3. bill hill

    every greek well lets say 75% of them who own a store have 2 tills the cash register and the other one their pocket,2-3 years ago you might get a receipt at 2 out of 4-5 stores the outdoor vegetable markets forget about a receipt there, when soneone works for 25-30 years then pulls a big pension for another 25 years how does that work most greeks blame the system but they forget that they do not fully support the system

    November 4, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  4. rightospeak

    Did the authors of this article ever heard of DEMOCRACY and Prime Ministers actually representing their people ? It looks to me as if the authors were paid to write nonsense to smear Papandreou -scholars of dubious morality.

    November 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  5. rightospeak

    For a real analysis of the Greek situation see CNN article of Nov. 3 rd "Greek tragedy has echoes of Argentina" by Hans-Joachim Voth – a smart man.It also applies to the U.S. and when I started reading I had the impression that he was writing about the U.S. Strangely ,it had only 47 comments and I guess no more could be added – we do not want people to know the truth , you know. or think that someone is popular writing facts.

    November 5, 2011 at 11:26 am | Reply

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