Antonis Samaras’s visit on Wednesday to the Ionian island of Cephalonia following Sunday’s destructive earthquake represented his finest hour as prime minister. Outside the hallways of the Maximos Mansion, beyond silly public relations stunts, sundry declarations and organized speeches to carefully selected audiences, Samaras is a politician of the street with a rare talent for communicating with the people.
We would expect that irrespective of whether the austerity measures he is implementing are right or wrong, he would try to inspire citizens by coming into direct contact with them, and possibly achieving much in the process. Inexplicably, Samaras has shut himself away from the world, spending most of his days within the confines of his office. By doing so he has allowed public sentiment to be shaped by the opposition, while a number of his representatives have escalated tensions with SYRIZA.
Greek politics is polarized. SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras has once again demanded an investigation into the adoption and implementation of the two memorandums signed with Greece’s international creditors. Samaras had also promised such a probe before changing tack and forming a coalition government with PASOK.
Since then, however, the situation has deteriorated considerably as Greece’s middle class has been crippled by austerity measures and is no longer there to keep society balanced. It is clear that if and when he becomes prime minister, Tsipras will have to offer the people a good show as he will have nothing else tangible to give. The demand for action and blood in the arena will come from a politically diverse group of people.
In the early years after the restoration of democracy, an effort was made to create a code of political conduct defined by the “enlightened right” and covering the entire spectrum through to the “reasonable left.” The endeavor failed. When PASOK first emerged back then it was even more radical than the Communist Party.
The right, meanwhile, was rocked to its core in the elections of 1977 when the nationalists won nearly 7 percent of the vote.
The National Alignment party soon disappeared from the Greek political map and PASOK evolved into a conventional leadership party. Today, SYRIZA has come to replace PASOK in that role and the right has become completely fragmented.
What has not changed since then is that Greece’s political parties have not managed to evolve so that they are no longer centered on their leaders. We remain focused on the party chief.
This of course would not necessarily be a bad thing if Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos played the role of leader to better effect and fought their battles on the level of the citizens rather than via mouthpieces on television.