x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Elections offer a tough decision to Greek public

A general election in Greece may sound like a recipe for more chaos, but in fact it is a chance for the Greek people to make some fundamental decisions.

Greeks will elect new leaders in April, the caretaker government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has announced.

After years of recession and months of political tumult, the instability of a six- or eight-week election campaign may seem like the last thing the country needs. But in fact these elections will bring the 10.8 million people of Greece an essential opportunity to make some major choices.

To be sure, there is no easy or obvious option. Drowning in red ink, Greece desperately needs economic growth, but its lenders are insisting on austerity measures that work directly and strongly against growth. On the other hand, those lenders have lost all interest in fuelling Greece's lavish welfare state, laughable tax collection and entrenched corruption. So government spending must fall, and tax revenue must grow.

Mr Papademos, an esteemed banker-bureaucrat, was drafted into the prime minister's office last November and fulfilled his short-term goals admirably, shepherding into law the austerity measures which are the price of Greece's next bailout cheque of €130 billion (Dh632 billion).

But as that law was enacted this week, rioting, political defections and a general strike showed the public's anger with the whole situation. Clearly it is time for Mr Papademos to bow out and let the people choose the country's leaders and policies.

The beauty of democracy is that, in theory at least, it creates a forum for political discourse without any burning cars, smashed windows or more serious violence. Each political party will now offer Greeks a course to the dry land of fiscal respectability.

If voters accept the burden of austerity, then rioters will be marginalised and more belt-tightening will be legitimised. If on the other hand, voters choose a party ready to repudiate the debts the whole country ran up during the fat years, then they will have only themselves to blame when their country is expelled from the euro zone.

Now it is the positions of the major parties that must be clarified. Opinion surveys say the conservative New Democracy party's leader Antonis Samaras will very likely be the new prime minister; his party voted for this week's austerity package, but he has argued that Greece should be able "to negotiate and change the current policy, which has been forced on us". He might as well demand that gravity be rescinded.

The realities of a campaign will make Greeks acknowledge their problems, and choose their medicine.