This Sunday, Jan. 25, Greeks will go to the polls for snap elections, with the radical left party Syriza currently polling ahead of the governing center-right New Democracy party by a margin of about 5 percent. The elections were called due to a technicality of Greece’s constitution requiring the dissolution of parliament if it is unable to elect a new president, a mostly decorative post in Greece’s parliamentary democracy.
When that in fact transpired and parliament was dissolved on Dec. 29, three things became apparent about the course of the country’s politics and fragile economic recovery, even as new questions were raised about the European Union. These questions have to do not with the EU’s economy, as many fear, but with its ability to accommodate a potential leftist government far outside mainstream European politics.
First, the Greek constitution, adopted exactly 30 years ago just after the fall of the “Colonels’ regime,” suffers from a birth defect in the form of the technicality behind Sunday’s elections. The constitution stipulates that the parliament must be dissolved if it fails to elect a new president of the republic by a qualified majority—180 out of the total of 300 parliamentary seats—after three rounds of voting. The measure is designed to allow the people to elect a new parliament that will then be able to elect a president under less stringent majority requirements. In practice, it has produced government instability and even negative economic effects.