ERT: A ticking timebomb?

The shutdown of the public broadcaster ERT, the Greek equivalent of the BBC, saw an outpouring of anger.  Thousands took to the streets, while the sacked workers occupied the station, and kept it on air in defiance of the Government, who had shut it down with less than three hours full notice under an unprecidented parliamentary fiddle.  First through livestream and then later through alternative broadcasters, ERT has been continuing to broadcast, and more truthfully than they ever could under government control.  It has now led to the resignation of the Democratic Left, the smallest member of the Greek coalition government.  Interesting times; dangerous times.

The shutdown of the Greek broadcaster ERT, was a stunning media coup d’etat by the Samaras. On the morning of 11th June, the government passed a new law enabling them to shut down public agencies without parliamentary approval; at 6pm they announced that they were planning to close ERT; at 9pm they announced that ERT would be closed at midnight and at  11.30 pm they pulled the plug, announcing that a replacement, muchly reduced service would resume in three months.

Within hours of the announcement, thousands had gathered outside the main ERT headquarters in Athens.  Workers announced their intention to continue broadcasting while police were dispensed by the government to the hillsides of Athens to take down the transmitters.  Inside the building workers continued to keep the service on air using support from independent media activists who set up a livestream, while outside a carnival atmosphere developed as the mass affirmed their committment to oppose the austerity measures being imposed, giving vox pops to ERT journalists openly calling the government “a Junta”.  The riot police who had started to gather in the sideroads made a tactical retreat once the support that ERT was receiving – both within Greece and internationally became clear.

Over a week later and the occupation of ERT is ongoing with no sign of tiring.  Broadcasts are occasionally interrupted as the emergency broadcasting channels put in place become overloaded, but keeping the service on air at all in the face of government opposition is a remarkable feat, and a testimony to the determination and professionalism of the workers.  Former workers for ERT who have been sacked for deviating from the party line have been invited back and overall everyone reports that the service is muchly improved.  A court order ruling that the decision was unlawful and that the government should immediately reinstate ERT was ignored although the government have suggested that they will establish the replacement service within days should they gain control of the broadcasting equipment, with a veiled threat of force to recover control of it.

Last night, Kouvelis, the leader of Democratic Left, the smallest of the coalition partners appeared to have a jolt of concience – announcing that the party would withdraw from the coalition over the decision, a stance that was officially confirmed this morning, leaving the coalition government comprising just New Democracy and PASOK, with a majority of just three MPs.  A shaky and narrow margin by which to push through the drastic cuts which are still required under the conditions of the third bailout agreed in November, which involves the sacking of an additional 12,000 civil servants in addition to the 3,000 ERT employees who have already lost their jobs.

Kouvelis is indulging in a bit is fence sitting, making noises that might indicate that he would not be entirely adverse to going into coalition with Syriza should a new election be called, officially stating that he sees no need for new elections, but neither is Democratic Left willing to unconditionally announce that they have confidence in the government.  There is no obligation for Samaras to call elections, given that he still has a parliamentary majority, however should there be a vote of no confidence, a few rogue PASOK MPs could make for a lot of trouble, even without it – just four MPs rescinding the whip would bring the government down.

In such an event, there are three possible outcomes.  Firstly some kind of parliamentary fiddle that would allow Samaras to continue to govern by dictat:  completely against all forms of parliamentary democracy of course, but this is Greece, and the democracy here is paper thin already.  Secondly Samaras may try to struggle on by as a minority government, a difficult task while trying to meet the onerous and unpopular bailout conditions, and one which will see him looking for deals with the more unsavoury elements of the Hellenic parliament.  Thirdly, following a loss of a vote of no confidence, a new election.

On the face of it, that seems like a positive measure, but it brings with it its own dangers. The latest opinion poll from 15th June shows the support for the parties as following, and its approximate translation into seats in the parliament:

New Democracy        29.8%   75 seats + 50 seat largest party bonus
SYRIZA                         29.4%   74 seats
Golden Dawn               13.2%   33 seats
PASOK                              8.8%  22 seats
Communist Party        7.1%  18 seats
Independent Greeks   6.1%  15 seats
Democratic Left           5.4%  13 seats

New Democracy has a very slim lead over SYRIZA, but even with the 50 largest party bonus, and a repeat coalition  with PASOK they would be unable to form a government, the only realistic option then would be to include the far right, and anti-bailout, Independent Greeks, led by Panos Kammenos, a former New Democracy MP who was expelled after voting against the party in a vote of no confidence.  Hardly the most endearing choice of stablemate.

Should a slight change in voting patterns occur and SYRIZA and New Democracy change positions, similarly they would be unable to govern alone.  In the aftermath of their withdrawal from the coalition, the Democratic Left appear to be making sympathetic noises towards SYRIZA, but even such a coalition would be 12 seats shy of an overall majority.  The Communist Party may seem like natural coalition partners, however their anti-coalition stance coupled with the animosity that many of the autonomous elements within SYRIZA harbour towards them would make such a union impossible.

There is of course another option.  Should New Democracy lead the poll, and obtain the 50 seat bonus, a coalition with the fascist Golden Dawn would require no other partners.  At one level this is unthinkable, that an established and notionally respectable, if extreme far right, party would willingly enter into corroboration with self-declared fascists, but the fascist tendencies that Samaras shows with his bypassing of parliamentary democracy in the shut down of ERT and the vicious repression of his interior minister Dendias makes Golden Dawn their natural political partners.  The anti-bailout and oppositional posturing that Golden Dawn have indulged in to gain popular support may well be ditched if given the chance of actual and effective power.

Dangerous times.

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