Why a Referendum on a 'Greek Plan' for Reform Is Now the Best Way Forward

A supporter of the New Democracy party holds the Greek national flag during a pre-election rally by the party leader and Gree
A supporter of the New Democracy party holds the Greek national flag during a pre-election rally by the party leader and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, not pictured, in Palaio Faliro, near Athens, Greece, on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. Greek voters go to the polls on Jan. 25 in a general election that will decide whether Europe's most-indebted country sticks to an austerity program that ensures its financial lifeline from creditors such as Germany. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images

ATHENS -- In the coming months, important decisions will have to be taken concerning the future of Greece, including the handling of our debt problem as well as whether we will continue to apply austerity policies.

In the wake of the elections, the internal political situation is highly polarized between political forces playing with fear and insecurity and others capitalizing on anger and despair.

This inflates extreme right and left populism. Much irresponsible and opportunistic rhetoric abounds. This polarization is squeezing out moderate left of center forces that historically have been fundamental in promoting democracy and reforms in Greece.

Facing these circumstances, I needed to make a bold political choice. PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party), the party I've belonged to since my youth and led for many years, had become assimilated into conservative practices and policies.

In particular, it showed clear symptoms of being subsumed into clientelistic politics, rather than confronting a clientelistic political and financial establishment that has dogged the Greek political scene for decades. This flawed system is at the heart of the recent crisis.

It became identified with the austerity of wage and pension cuts, with heavy taxes through our inefficient tax authority, rather than good governance, equitable taxes and deep reforms that would have lifted much of the burden from the middle and lower classes.

This alienated the largest numbers of our voters. Consequently, most of the followers of PASOK have distanced themselves from politics or adhered to other parties.

Myself and many others had repeatedly appealed to the current party leadership on the need to reassess our strategy but also increase our support through a democratic, open congress before the elections were called. Unfortunately, we were not listened to.

What therefore became a growing demand of progressive citizens from the left of center was to create a genuine alternative, a new movement.

The conservative New Democracy party will need time to recover from its electoral defeat while the populist left Syriza party will be tested in government. One test has to do with their style of governance. They come from a tradition of Marxist-Leninists and fringe leftist movements and often espouse deeply authoritarian dogma. Running an inefficient state with more (left) authoritarianism would be a catastrophe. Let's hope this will not be the case.


On the other hand, they will be facing a dilemma on the so-called "Troika" (European Union-IMF-European Central Bank) program: either to pursue policies based on their populist pre-electoral rhetoric, which could easily clash with the EU and derail what progress Greece has so far made, or change its course by doing serious bargaining on a realistic plan for deep changes in Greece.

It is this second option which is the goal of our new Movement of Democratic Socialists -- KINIMA. We seek radical change in our governance institutions and also demand a departure from an EU policy that relies on a failed focus on austerity.

Our alternative is specific: We are proposing to take the ownership of the reform plan away from the Troika so that Greeks themselves can lead the country out of crisis.

In place of the Troika plan we propose a "Greek Plan" of fundamental reforms, from the political to the tax system, from transparency to meritocracy to e-governance; a functioning democracy in juxtaposition to a failed clientelistic state capitalism.

We propose reforms along the lines of the initial reforms we pushed through -- beginning in 2010 -- when I was prime minister.

We call it "the revolution of the self evident."

This plan, I believe, will put us in a good bargaining position in negotiating the issue of the debt, which in turn would free us to use our budget surpluses for growth, investment, needed social services and lighter taxes on the middle class.

A wider stimulus program in Europe would be more than welcome. The European Central Bank's recent quantitative easing is important. But a robust fiscal stimulus program with public investment in infrastructure and training throughout Europe is a must.

I have also proposed that we convene a global conference of experts on Greek debt to both discuss ways of alleviating our debt burden and help in our negotiations with other EU partners and the IMF.

Our proposal is that this Greek Plan, and an agreement with our EU partners on forms of debt relief, should then go to a referendum.

A carefully planned national referendum to approve the Greek Plan would be a guarantee to our partners in the EU that we are committed to a road map for change in Greece. The referendum would bind all parties in a deep national commitment to help implement these changes.

"The referendum would bind all parties in a deep national commitment to help implement changes."

We also have a powerful agenda on the issues that guarantee an open society -- respect of human rights, the fight against racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and for transparency and accountability.

On the economic front, we put emphasis on a stable and fair tax system and investment in a green economy that will address the current problems of both foreign investors and Greek citizens.

We plan to utilize global and innovative experiences in creating a movement based on wide participatory practices, deliberation, self-organization, crowd sourcing solutions, continuing education and transparency.

In order to own our destiny, we Greeks must revitalize our democracy.

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