Friday, 23 January 2015

What's going to happen on Sunday


1. Voting finishes at 5pm our time
2. Exit poll published immediately. Don't get too excited by it.
3. Half 8 our time, we will know who has won. 
4. If the SYRIZA finishes first and gets 40,4% of the vote, it has a majority.
5. By midnight, the full result will be known.

Sunday's Greek election - procedure

I've had quite a few posts asking precisely what's going to happen on Sunday, so I thought it might be useful to give a quick run-down. 

There are 56 multi-member constituencies from Achaea to Zakynthos. Mostly, these constituencies correspond to prefectures (provinces), old or new. For instance, Lesbos has been abolished as a prefecture, but is retained as a constituency, electing three deputies to the Voulí (the sitting deputies are one each for ND, PA.SO.K and the SYRIZA). More urban areas have more deputies - so Athens A returns seventeen: 8 ND, 4 SYRIZA, and one each for PA.SO.K, Chrisí Avgí, Dim.Ar, KKE and Anexartitoi Ellines. 

Fun fact: Athens A's MPs include both the radical Left SYRIZA president Alexis Tsipras and the neo-Nazi Chrisí Avgí founder, the currently-imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos. The hustings must have been fun.

The highest number of seats in a constituency is Athens B, which returns 44. The lowest number of seats is Zakynthos, which returns a solitary islander to Syntagma Square, equalled by Grevena, Evrytania, Kefallinia, Lefkada, Samos and Fokida.

All Greeks over the age of 18 are eligible to vote, provided they are registered in a Greek municipality. Some 100.000 young, first-time voters have been disenfranchised, however, with the Greek Youth Parliament questioning the apparent inability of the Ministry of the Interior to register the new voters, given the three-week notice period. With unemployment amongst young Greeks running at 50%, it's little surprise that support for the SYRIZA is at its highest there (40% of under-25s, whilst the incumbent ND is running at only 15%). 

Given there is a fifty-seat bonus for coming first - even by one vote in the whole country - every vote counts. And in the country which invented cynicism and democracy, there is a bitter irony that the one seems to be trumping the other. 

(c) Precarious Europe

The polls will open at 05:00 Scottish time on Sunday morning and close at 17:00 Scottish time on Sunday evening. Individual polling stations may extend voting hours at the discretion of the presiding officer.

It is compulsory to vote in Greece. There is, however, no punishment for not voting. To prove compliance with electoral law, voters are given a certificate of voting.

Greeks vote in a slightly different way from Scots: rather than having a single ballot paper with all the options, they are given an array of ballot papers, one from each party. They select the party they wish to vote for and the candidates they wish to be elected from that party. This means that, say PA.SO.K wins five seats in Thessaloniki-A constituency. The five most popular PA.SO.K candidates in that seat as ranked by the voters, not the party, are elected to the Voulí.

This is (and I'm sorry to go off on a tangent here) a much better system than we use, where closed party lists fundamentally mean that as long as an MSP is popular enough amongst party members in his or her region - for a Liberal MSP, that could mean being top-ranked by as little as a dozen people - it is basically impossible for the electorate to kick them out of Holyrood. And it's my belief that the closed party list is the reason UKIP have an MEP today: the SNP was guaranteed two seats, with a chance of a third. The Greens had a chance of one, as did UKIP. The SNP selected a Tory as their third-placed candidate, which made it impossible for people on the progressive Left to lend them their vote and keep UKIP out. Instead, they drifted to the Greens, which fell just short of the numbers to stop the anti-foreigner party from sneaking in. Had it been an open party-proportional list, I, and anecdotal evidence of non-Green Green voters seems to show many more, would have voted SNP.

But I digress. The actual candidates selected are irrelevant to me, and I suspect to 99,9% of those reading this. It is the proportion of seats gained by parties which is of interest to us.

The party tallying is done first so that the results can be announced as quickly as possible. Thus, we will know which party has won the election, but not which deputies will be going to Athens, with the exception of party leaders and anyone who has served as prime minister. These men are automatically returned at the top of the party list. So we can say with some confidence that with 4 seats in Athens-A last time, we will definitely be seeing Alexis Tsipras back in parliament.

At 17:01, an exit poll will be published. In June 2013, the exit poll slightly overstated the SYRIZA vote (not by much, it was basically only by a rounding error). In 2000, the exit poll gave ND a 0,5% lead. PA.SO.K won by 1%. These are tiny margins but remember that fifty seat bonus. Each newspaper and TV station will then release their own exit polls as time goes on.

20:30 our time on Sunday should mark the point where 10% of the votes have been counted in each prefecture. It should, at that stage, be possible to extrapolate the results with reasonable certainty. There may well be an official projection from the Interior Ministry's Central Election Service.

What we are looking for is a) the SYRIZA to come in first place; b) a vote for the SYRIZA of at least 40,4%. This means that it has won a majority of at least one seat because of the 50-seat bonus for the winner. 

The remaining 250 seats are allocated in proportion according to the votes cast. However, this is in proportion only to the votes cast for the parties which reach a threshold of 3% nationally. Votes cast for parties which do not reach the 3%, or spoilt ballots, or blank votes, are disregarded. 

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