Governmentality and coalition dynamics

governmentalityMichel Foucault’s ‘governmentality’ concept has to do with the overarching ‘problem of government’ – that is, ‘how to govern oneself, how to be governed, by whom should we accept to be governed, how to be the best possible governor etc.’

These are some generic questions that occasionally find their way into common thinking, especially during periods of enduring problems particularly in the case of unfinished national economic models or seriously tested social structures. In the last decade or so, Greece has been a theatre of political and social turbulence, combined with a profound disturbance of the national value system.

During the crisis years, the traditional two-party system was viewed as responsible for the hardships of the Greek people. Economic protectionism, corruption, political nepotism and excessive Statism have nurtured serious structural problems and inefficiencies. PASOK and New Democracy have succeeded one another in government between 1974-2014 marking a long period during which inefficient political management, clientelism and the nurturing of partisan priorities have ruled the field.

In 2010, PASOK initiated the troika patronage by applying to IMF for protection and New Democracy that followed in 2012 took over the reigns of austerity policy (assisted by PASOK and the Democratic Left). Both traditional systemic party systems have suffered a significant loss of political power: PASOK almost receded from mainstream politics when a dynamic cluster of cadres migrated to SYRIZA after George Papandreou was kicked out from power at the end of 2011 and ND committed political suicide replacing crisis management with populist tactics in summer 2014.

In the last four years, ND continues to struggle with the political inefficiencies of the Centre-Right and SYRIZA has suffered major losses due to the continuous austerity imposed by the leftish translation of MoU obligations and prior actions. Last year, Movement for Change (MfC), a new political formation came into being, powered primarily by the remains of PASOK and other centre-left political smaller parties, aiming at revitalising the traditional Centre-Left. Until recently it scored third in the opinion polls, behind SYRIZA and the Golden Dawn.

On the other hand, smaller parties such To Potami, ANEL (SYRIZA’s junior coalition partner) or Centrists’ Union have lost their raison d’être when the wave of resentment caused by austerity measures has started to give way to desperation and apathy towards alternative political players that preferred to taste a bit of the systemic power they used to curse when they played the role of adversaries. In this year’s opinion polls, none of these parties appear strong enough to pass the 3% threshold to enter parliament.
In the last inner-elections for the leader of the Movement for Change (MfC) in November 2017, one of the photos that became viral was that of veteran PASOK figure Costas Laliotis standing next to winner Fofi Gennimata, smoking a cigar. Laliotis has always been considered a controversial figure, a close associate of legendary Andreas Papandreou, an experienced PASOK strategist and election campaign specialist, operating in the sidelines; all kinds of rumours have been associated with him over time. On the day Fofi became leader of Movement for Change, Laliotis appeared as a guarantor of the new leader’s success, reminding friends and adversaries of his unabating presence in the political game.

A couple of weeks later, the members of the MfC political council were announced; amongst them Stavros Theodorakis, leader of To Potami party and former Prime Minister George Papandreou and leader of the Movement of Democrats & Socialists. MfC’s political strategy aimed at the revival of the centre-left (along with the protection of PASOK legacy) hoping to become a major coalition partner in the government scheme that will emerge from the next national elections, which will take place possibly in fall 2019.

On the other side of the fence, the dominant view amongst ND executives is that Fofi will answer Kyriakos’ call and both parties will join forces against the SYRIZA calamity. Well, reality seems to lie a bit further from ND’s wishful thinking.

In the beginning of May, Fofi Gennimata asked for elections ‘here and now’, taking her spot next to Kyriakos Mitsotakis who keeps expressing the same wish since 2015. She knew it was perhaps her las
t chance to position herself as the head of the Movement for Change that friendly pollsters had already started spinning it towards 10% of the electorate. The pick moment came and went pretty fast. Since then, MfC is suffering from centrifuge trends with its major partners flirting with the ruling party.

Both Stavros Theodorakis and George Papandreou have met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on two different occasions: ?heodorakis visited the Premier in the beginning of March to discuss his proposal for the establishment of a National Security Council and Papandreou met with Tsipras in May after the former’s request to be informed about national issues, ahead of a trip abroad in his capacity as a President of Socialist International. Both leaders have expressed their support to the recent Greece – fYROM agreement on the ‘Macedonian issue’ marked by Tsipras – Zaev meeting in Prespes lakes last Sunday. All other members of MfC followed their lead alienating Fofi who disagreed with the deal, once again standing next to her former centre-right rival Kyriakos.

Even Costas Laliotis (this time without the cigar) returned in the news agenda via a different path. After a series of incidents in the long-lasting Greek-Turkish saga, a well-known journalist and radio commentator, during a regular television appearance, celebrated the role of Laliotis in protecting Greek sovereignty against Turkey, when during his tenure as a PASOK minister had initiated the Natura legislation that secures the continental self of Greek islands and islets that Turks view as grey zones. The journalist who spinned the story is well connected with Maximos Mansion.

According to opinion polls, the gap between ND and SYRIZA is somewhere between 8-10 percentage points. MfC on the other hand is still fighting towards the first two-digit level. Also, most Greeks who do answer opinion pollsters’ phone calls believe that ND will be the next winner in national elections that will be held in 16 months, according to Tsipras’ plan.

However, this is a vast period of time, especially in political terms. Various landmark moments, such as the Prespes agreement, the forthcoming Greece-Albania deal, major investments, Greece’s EEZ strategies, everyday-life policies, as well as innovative government work (if possible), along with some relief measures channeled to financially weaker social groups could narrow the gap currently recorded between the ruling party and the main opposition, especially when the latter’s voting rate seems to have hit a ceiling some time ago.

Political landmarks will also play a role, such as municipal and EU elections in May 2019. It will be an opportunity for political messages to be sent across the political spectrum, SYRIZA voters to blow some steam and major parties to try some new narratives.

The period from August 2018 through September 2019 will be really interesting and hopefully revitalising for Greece. Amongst the most vital elements will be the ability of Greek voters as well as political parties to answer Foucault’s questions that seem more timely than ever.


Demetris Kamaras

Journalism Professor and journalist, primarily online. Political analyst and communications specialist. Previous studies in economics (BA), communications policy (MA) and journalism (PhD), mostly in London. Born in Hove, Brighton. Lives in Athens, Greece. Blogs when necessary. Founded and running Private Information Network and [The Greek]. Occasional articles of friends are published on Interested in political communication, next-gen web apps, digital R&D, internet ethics and social networks. He taught journalism and communication at University of Indianapolis Athens (1999-2013). Published numerous analyses and op-eds, online and in print and his first book was titled: Digital Communication (Zenon Publications, London, 2000 – co-authorship). Recent publications: Crisis Talk; Greece (2012) – iBook/Avaialble on iTunes. Elections and the Internet, Digerati Publications (Athens, 2014) (in Greek).

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