Déjà vu. It sounds so familiar… On the 6th of May 2012, this poor country, in the eye of the storm of the Eurozone financial crisis, headed to the polls. In the run-up to election day, almost everybody here was hugely agitated. Normal, ordinary people, were furiously and very loudly expressing their dismay towards the traditional political parties that were to blame for the catastrophe that has befallen on the country. That frustration was clearly evident on election day itself. I had been voting in every election since 1989. In every occasion, whatever the fuss and the vivid argumentation during the campaigning season, the election day itself had always been calm and sober. It had always been the day that “people spoke”, not the politicians. The citizenry had been visiting quietly and calmly the polling centers, standing in quiet queues outside the booths, and fulfilling their primary constitutional right calmly. Always, in front of the booth, there was never any argumentation, no expression whatsoever, whatever the importance of each election, since the voters did not bother to argue for their beliefs in front of total strangers who just happened to be standing alongside them in the queues.
Well, not on the 6th of May. On that day, standing in the queue, I was amazed to notice the level of agitation of the electorate. Ordinary babouskas, those “extremely conservative” elements of society who had always been voting for one of the two traditionalist, dominant parties (the conservatives and the socialists who, together, on average controlled about 80 percent of the vote during the past 35 years), could not stay quiet. Spontaneously here and there, babouskas and other people were heard cursing the traditionalist parties, in front of total strangers around them, and urging everybody to vote “for anyone except for the two traditional parties”.
It was a suggestion that was well headed. That night was a total shock for everybody. The traditional parties were shattered. Taken together, they did not muster more than 30 percent of the votes. The other 70 percent of the vote was scattered in a panspermia of noisy “protest-parties”, from the extreme right to the extreme left, who had all been campaigning on an anti-austerity, protest agenda. An obscure leftist party, that during the past 35 years would normally get only about 3-5 percent of the vote in every election, suddenly was catapulted to second place with 16 percent. Curiously however, that huge majority against austerity was scattered amongst the full political spectrum in such an improbable manner, that no combination of parties, neither pro nor against austerity, could form any coalition to ensure a working majority in parliament. The country was completely deadlocked. After two weeks of futile efforts to form a “grand coalition” of parties from both sides of the dividing line, the politicians gave up. A new caretaker government was formed and fresh elections were called for the 17th of June.
The shock was spectacular. Come Monday morning the 7th May, everybody was quiet, speechless. There were no more comments, no celebrations by anyone. Nobody had won, and we were all very embarrassed to be invited to vote once again in the midst of the huge crisis. The troika blocked the disbursement of the next tranches of the agreed aid “pending the formation of a stable government” and everything fell in limbo.
Which, I bet, are exactly the feelings of our fellow Italians today. Even the clearest winners of the election, the M5S, I suppose that they are quiet today, not celebrating too much.
Will the déjà vu continue? Here in Greece, last June the conservatives launched a very successful campaign based on the fear of the electorate for the possible consequences of the impeding Grexit. I had personally heard a lot of those voters, who had earlier cast loudly protest votes on the 6th of May, whispering subsequently strong reservations for what lies ahead, albeit timidly. The electorate started coalescing around two pillars. Those in favor of austerity, and those very afraid, however reluctantly, voted for the conservatives, who shot up from 19 to 30 percent. That huge 70 percent chunk against austerity shrank down to 53 percent and remained scattered, although the main leftist opposition shot up too from 16 to 27 percent. Eventually, three pro austerity parties, who together mustered a total 47 percent of the vote, formed a coalition government that is still in charge.
Shall we look into our crystal ball for Italy? Everything remains in limbo for weeks, or months. The politicians fail to reach consensus and new elections are called. The markets shy away from Italy, the borrowing costs shoot up to the stratosphere and the renewed financial turmoil rocks the country and Europe as a whole for weeks on end. Frightened and bewildered, in the new election a portion of the protesters return to the pro austerity camp, not a big portion, but enough for those forces to manage to form a stable coalition to assume governing. Any bets?