Greece's Democratic Crisis and Fundamental Need for Change

Left-wing Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras speaks with leader of the right-wing Independent Greeks party Panos Kammenos dur
Left-wing Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras speaks with leader of the right-wing Independent Greeks party Panos Kammenos during their meeting at his office in Athens, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Syriza's victory in Sunday's election marks a personal triumph for Tsipras, who served as prime minister between January and August, a tumultuous period that saw Greece's future in the 19-country eurozone come under real threat and strict banking controls imposed. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

As Alexis Tsipras embarks on his second mandate as prime minister, deep uncertainty still dominates the Hellenic landscape. Serious questions persist about Tsipras' ability to deliver what is required to keep Greece in the eurozone and ensure its long-term economic survival. Furthermore, it must be asked whether Tsipras actually has a real mandate at all, despite an apparent "big" electoral win on September 20th.

The cornerstone of Tsipras' supposed mandate is to implement what European creditors largely dictated to him in the form of Greece's third bailout. Within six months, Tsipras went from utter defiance of Europe to complete compliance. In his first electoral victory, he claimed a popular mandate demanding a better deal for Greece from creditors. Not only did Tsipras fail the Greek people miserably, he performed a complete reversal. Now in his second term, Tsipras must carry out Europe's instructions. His flexibility is extremely limited. The chances that Tsipras may fail Europe, and Greece for a second time, still remain quite high.

Furthermore, the full extent of the damage inflicted by Tsipras on the Greek economy during his first mandate has yet to be fully assessed in earnest. It may eventually prove too extensive, permanent and irreversible. Thus, rendering futile any current attempt by Tsipras to salvage the Greek economy and preventing Greece's exit from the eurozone.

According to the bailout, the new Tsipras government must undertake the mammoth task of passing dozens of reforms before year's end. These include unpopular measures such as tax increases and pension reform. Essentially, Tsipras is in a race with time, which is currently not on his side. The odds are stacked against him. The first review by creditors of Greece's performance will take place in October.

For Tsipras, a key advantage is that his core team of bailout negotiators remains intact. It is now occupying the key ministries critical to bailout implementation. However, broader endemic ineptitude still prevails in Syriza's ranks, which can easily resurface. In addition, radical elements opposed to the bailout are still active in Syriza despite the departure of many far-leftists. One cannot rule out their continued defiance, pressure or attempts to derail, or at least complicate, the bailout's implementation.

Any further attempts at grandstanding or stonewalling by the new Tsipras government will incur Europe's wrath. The bottom line is that Europe's patience with Tsipras, and particularly German public opinion, has reached near-zero tolerance levels. For the sake of Greece, Tsipras cannot even afford to deviate fractionally from the path set by the third bailout.

All along, it is also questionable whether Tsipras actually has a real mandate. Technically, he won the election. In fact, Tsipras's party won roughly the same percentage of votes and parliamentary seats as the January 2015 poll. However, despite Tsipras' claim of "vindication" and global headlines asserting a "big win" for Tsipras, closer scrutiny of the actual results tells a different story.

Tsipas received only one-third of the votes from just nearly half of all eligible voters. Nearly half of the electorate did not even show up at the polls. The September 20 election marked one of the lowest turnouts ever in recent Greek history.

Overall, Tsipras received roughly 20 percent support from all of Greece's eligible voters. Ultimately, the election proved a victory for voter fatigue, public apathy, indifference and cynicism which corrode the foundations of any free society. Apart from a staggering economic crisis, Greece is suffering from a serious crisis in democracy.

Restoring confidence in the system will take a long time. However, some pragmatic steps can be taken to activate the process. For a start, residency requirements determining the location where Greek citizens can vote must be streamlined. The actual time and process for changing location must also be accelerated.

When Tsipras announced the snap referendum in early July 2015, many urban Greek citizens with residencies elsewhere had only one week to plan trips to vote in home districts. Furthermore, with capital controls in effect, the often expensive journey was not financially possible for many. Consequently, thousands were denied the right to vote.

In the recent September 20th poll, many voters had less than a month to make travel plans. Coupled by voter fatigue, disillusioned citizens abstained from voting altogether.

Another crucial step to bolstering the democratic process and promoting civic participation is giving Greek citizens abroad the right to vote. Many mainstream Western democracies allow this via mail-in ballots or voting through overseas embassies and consulates.

Greece's diaspora possesses some of the nation's most dynamic talent, particularly its young elements. Many emigrate abroad due to necessity and yet are some of the most eager for change at home.

At times, the catalyst for national transformation emanates from abroad as opposed to coming from home. Considering the status quo in Greece, extending the vote to Greeks overseas is a necessary and essential step forward on a long and arduous road to recovery.