COMMENT

Facing two choices

By Alexis Papachelas

There are plenty of people who voted the current coalition government into power two years ago that feel they are being given no choice but to choose the opposition SYRIZA party in the next general election and resent it. They are angered by a number of political decisions made by the government following the cabinet reshuffle and especially by the removal of certain politicians who got things done and defended their choices openly. Even before the reshuffle, these voters were angry at decisions that showed the political system is incapable of changing its tune regardless of the mess it has made of the country.

These voters constitute the backbone of what used to be the middle class in Greece and it is they who have paid one of the highest prices for the crisis. They have been bled dry by taxation and driven to near-insanity by ludicrous measures such as allowing any tax official to freeze their bank accounts at the slightest hint of a misdeed. Nevertheless, they did not fall for the “How much worse could it be with SYRIZA?” argument. They voted for New Democracy and to a lesser extent PASOK and Democratic Left because they believed that was the way to keep the country standing. And the truth is that the country did survive and it produced a rare group of ministers who did their jobs without qualms.

The prime minister earned the support of people who would never have considered voting for him in the past. He was seen as a leader who could be relied on, who would get the country to the other side of the river. All of a sudden, however, two-thirds of the way across and with the waters calmer, they feel that something has gone terribly wrong. Someone has sowed panic, the crew is starting to argue, the compass is spinning, and the passengers are frightened.

Sure, mistakes are made in politics, especially when the key players are stretched to their limit. But mistakes need to be followed up by a period of introspection and regrouping. The prime minister has two choices right now: to keep giving to pressure against change in the hope that voters will be ushered back into the fold on the promise of a handout here or a caress there, or to stay the course and fix the problems that have arisen from the troika’s extreme doggedness.

Neither choice guarantees a win at the next general election. The first means that the coalition will lose any comparative advantage it has over SYRIZA. The second may lead Greece into the light but requires great determination and persistence.

Many battles still need to be fought before we will know with any certainty where things are headed and the government will come under a tremendous amount of pressure in the next few months. How it deals with this pressure will depend of whether the prime minister will tolerate destructive politicians.

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