Anger is not a good adviser, especially in politics. That is why informed, rather than emotional, voters make better decisions. Representative democracy has several filters built in to the decision-making process, not only for practical reasons, but to make sure that rationality prevails over emotion. We know from history that hasty emotional decisions have had tremendously negative consequences. They have led to several catastrophes, civil wars, bloodshed and international isolation.
Democracy needs people to participate with their minds, not their guts. This is why the democratic system pays a significant cost, in time and money, to examine every potential future consequence of a decision – even though in times of emergency or crisis, democracy seems to be inefficient, and almost incapable, of solving problems as fast and as radically as the situation demands. Democracy filters out transient feelings, increasing the chances that the right decision will be made in the long run.
But Greeks are right now full of a jumble of mixed emotions and feelings. They are consumed by anger, disappointment and hopelessness. That is why they appeared to vote almost at random in the last elections on 6 May, which left no party capable of forming a government. Not only did they quadruple the percentage of the vote for the leftist grouping Syriza (4.6% in 2009 to 16.8% in 2012) but they also gave 23 times more votes to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party (0.3% in 2009 to 7% in 2012). They didn't vote for, they voted against. We should not be sidetracked by the fact that a leftist party came second and now is in with a chance of winning on Sunday. After all, a populist rightwing party, the Independent Greeks, was formed only a few months ago and gained, out of nowhere and without proposing anything, 10% of the electorate.
The big vote for Syriza pales in comparison to other success stories from the 6 May elections, which received very little media attention.
This emotional voting is bad news for the country, but for Syriza as well. Citizens didn't give a mandate for a left turn in governance. Certainly, they are outraged by the old political system. They despise politicians of the previous major parties (Pasok and New Democracy), but voting out of anger will undermine all future policies. If Syriza were to win a majority in the parliament (and supposing that this coalition of reformists, communists, Maoists, Stalinists could produce a sound and coherent manifesto), people would not support the policies of such a government. Majorities built upon sentiments are like sand castles. They get washed away by even small waves of reality. And today realities in Greece are like tsunami waves.
Voters filled with anger don't understand that choices in time of crisis are between bad and catastrophic. The problem is that they don't even want to discuss alternatives. They embrace the rhetoric of anti-memorandum parties, and they confuse cause and effect. Anti-memorandum voters tend to believe their economic problems all spring from the bad decisions (or even conspiracies) of the political system of the last three years. Nobody is explaining the difficult realities of the Greek economy, the competitiveness deficit, the problem of living with 2009 incomes and having production structures fitted for the 1970s. Voters don't want to listen to anything. Actually they get even angrier with people who try to bring them rational arguments. They don't even listen to anti-memorandum politicians who whisper that even if we expel the troika, Greece will need a long period of adjustments, meaning more austerity along with structural reforms.
Sentiments prevail and that means ugly surprises the day after the elections. If Syriza were to form a government, it would be obliged to follow more or less the same policy as the other parties and that would be a major blow for the left-populist ideology that dominates Greece. For historical reasons the left, although it hasn't governed Greece, gained the ideological hegemony. It's ideas of statism and anti-reformism dominate even the conservative part of the political spectrum.
So it would be much wiser to let New Democracy and Pasok do the dirty job of trying to bring change to Greece. After all, distribution needs surpluses. The only thing the next government (no matter who is elected) has to distribute is blood, sweat and tears. And that is not what the left is promising in these elections.
Published in "The Guardian" 15.6.2012