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.