For some time I have been worried about the political consequences of the social unrest in some of the Mediterranean countries whose history of democracy is limited and whose political cultures are unstable. I had been watching out for action by their militaries to quell street protests or a greater role for the military in political life.
But during the past few days I have realised my foolishness. The coups are happening in an entirely civilised way, carried out by men in suits rather than men in fatigues. An online dictionary defines a coup as 'The sudden overthrow of a government by a usually small group of persons in or previously in positions of authority.' In the case of democracies it can be taken to mean the replacement of one government with another without recourse to elections.
The first evidence that this was becoming the preferred strategy of the financial elites came with the removal of Papandreou when he had the effrontery to announce that such a major decision as subjecting his people to financial rule by the IMF would require their agreement through a referendum. Within 24 hours he had been ousted and today we hear he is to be replaced by Papademos, who is being politely referred to as a 'technocrat' but whose banking credentials are the reason for his appointment.
As a former vice-president of the European Central Bank he is considered a safe pair of hands by the holders of financial assets. Since he is not a member of the socialist party, who won a majority at the last election, he could hardly become the leader of such a government. In Orwellian style, the government is to be titled one of 'national unity'. In an affront to democracy Greece will now be led by a man who has never held elected office.
Italy also seems to be lurching its way towards a 'government of national unity' again headed by an unelected banker. Last evening Mario Monti was made a senator for life by Italy's President, a step seen as preparatory to his taking over as Prime Minister. He is a former politician and was European Commissioner for the single market, which included the finance brief. The total of governments that have fallen as a result of the financial crisis has now risen to five. As the financial elites jostle to protect their ill-gotten assets the main loser appears to be democracy.
The lack of democracy in our own country is blatant and was the real cause of the expenses scandal. Charging to stand in elections and the continuing and growing bias in the media against any views that question the capitalist status quo is a threat to democracy. But in May 2010 voters did have other choices: their refusal to take them is entirely different from citizens who are being prevented from making democratic choices that might cause a loss in the value of assets being held by the elite, as we are seeing in Italy and Greece.