The government expected the biggest pre-election challenge to come from leftist SYRIZA. It acted accordingly and possibly improved its public image to some extent, largely due to the amateurism of the main opposition party and the contradictions in its positions.
All of a sudden, a secretly recorded conversation between cabinet secretary Panayiotis Baltakos and Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, conducted in an extremely familiar tone, blew it all up in the air. The government had been relying on scoring some points from the success of the Eurogroup meeting in Athens, but its image has now received a serious blow following Wednesday’s developments. Of course that is the least of its problem.
With the allegations he is heard making in the video, Baltakos may deal a terrible blow to the credibility of the judicial investigation into the far-right Golden Dawn. Members of the government who are mentioned in the video, as well as representatives of justice, have denied his allegations, but the fact is that in cases like this what actually happened rarely matters in the end. Impressions have a bigger impact and it is likely that Golden Dawn will see a rise in popularity in the days to come, even if all of its deputies are jailed.
Like it or not, the ball is in Golden Dawn’s court. And this latest video is probably not the only one of its kind. There were plenty of occasions when the jailed leader of the far-right party, Nikos Michaloliakos, and other MPs spoke to New Democracy members before GD was put under criminal investigation. Any kind of record of these exchanges could be seriously damaging to the image of the prime minister and his party.
Moreover, Baltakos’s allegations could undermine New Democracy’s efforts to build a stronger right-wing profile. After demands even by coalition partner PASOK’s leader Evangelos Venizelos for all extreme-right behavior to be weeded out of the government, ND is at risk of appearing too far to the right in any ideological confrontation with the left.
In an effort at damage control, Samaras disengaged himself completely from the entire issue. Baltakos’s claims on the video clearly illustrate that the prime minister has absolutely no involvement, but it will take a hefty amount of good faith for this to be believed, something that Samaras’s opponents seem to be in very short supply of.
The result of all this is that just when it looked as if the economy was beginning to stabilize, a major challenge has emerged to political stability. But when problems like the emergence of Golden Dawn are dealt with in a calculated manner, then “accidents” such as the leaking of the video are more or less inevitable.