COMMENT

Caught up in the pre-election frenzy

By Costas Iordanidis

The deal achieved between Athens and the troika was hailed as a major triumph by the Greek government, and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras even went as far as to say – somewhat prematurely – that he got the country out of the crisis. At the same time, SYRIZA and all the other parties in the opposition accused the government – in a somewhat petty fashion – of bowing to the demands of the creditors, while saying that a new memorandum is imminent.

What was in fact achieved on Tuesday was a truce between the government and Greece’s creditors for purely political reasons. Serious problems have been put off until June and the approach to other issues was based on the prospect of elections in May.

A typical example of how the deal with the troika was managed in the public eye was the government saying – way in advance – that it would achieve a primary surplus and that part of that money would be distributed to the people within May. In one sense, there was nothing wrong with this tactic given that election races in Greece have been run on promises of handouts for decades. The problem is that neither the government nor SYRIZA had any reason to turn the European elections into a cause for domestic strife. The blame, of course, lies with SYRIZA, because Alexis Tsipras felt the time was ripe for a full-on confrontation with the governing coalition, which has just a slim majority in Parliament.

This is a risky strategy, because if New Democracy does not suffer any serious losses and the difference with SYRIZA is not significant, and if PASOK gets something like 5 percent, the coalition will survive. Then, Tsipras will have the incredibly serious task of dealing with the fissures in his own party.

The government certainly has no reason to treat May’s elections like a referendum on economic policy and to engage in a war of words and strategy with Tsipras. Even a bad performance in the polls could be manageable if it were interpreted as a reaction against austerity, the expression of healthy euroskepticism and a call for a change in the dominant European mind-set. Such a result could in fact be used to the government’s advantage in negotiations with its European partners.

But all this philosophizing is in vain, because our political leaders will invariably lash out at one another and try to split society. Trapped in their limited environment, incapable of adapting their political style to the new conditions, they use the kind of rhetoric that sparks civil wars. They look at the people as a herd and try to corral them in one direction by alternately cultivating fear and overoptimism. This is what passes for parliamentary democracy in Greece, even though it defies reason.

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