Another Greek election? Lessons for the PR enthusiast

by George Hatjoullis

Alexis Tsipras has called yet another election in Greece. This may puzzle UK observers but it is quite logical and arguably a consequence of proportional representation. Greece has 300 seats in its parliament. 250 seats are allocated proportionately to parties that meet the 3% threshold. The remaining 50 seats are given to the party that comes first overall. The allocation of MPs to districts is more complicated with only 12 of the 300 being from national lists however this is not important to this blog post. The question is why did Tsipras call the election?

The answer lies in consolidating his power within Syriza. He is confident that Syriza will prevail in another election. This is confirmed by the fact that New Democracy has made overtures to form a governing coalition without new elections. New Democracy evidently fear elections. Tsipras ultimately controls the list of MPs that can stand on the Syriza ticket. The new list will include only those that will support him and his acceptance of the Memorandum of Understanding with the eurozone. Most of the rebels have assisted in this by declaring the intention to go it alone. Tsipras is now able to reshape Syriza in his image and thus consolidate power.

Only an ideologue can conclude that Tsipras is anything more than a power-hungry politician (an oxymoron of course). Every move he has made has been designed to achieve and consolidate power for himself, irrespective of the consequences for Greece. One only need read the January manifesto and see where Greece is today to grasp this. The referendum was very damaging economically and only made sense in terms giving Tsipras a free hand at a U-turn, which he executed with frightening skill. One cannot be too critical. He is no worse than anyone that has gone before but he is no better either, except perhaps in being rather better at being a politician. My guess is that he will be with us for some time.

The PR lesson for the UK is that, under PR, elections may take place for internal party reasons rather than the needs of the country. This is worth bearing in mind in the clamour for PR.