Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

The insatiable beast of populism

COMMENT

TAGS: Politics

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA are now facing the populist beast they nurtured. It is not a pleasant encounter. The situation is set to become even more unpleasant in the winter, when voters will start paying higher taxes and contributions and will see their last reserves exhausted.

Facing the government are former comrades as well as organized groups who know how to create havoc whenever they get the chance. Cases of attacks on deputies and ministers are multiplying. The summer holidays are not expected to be a relaxing time for MPs. The administration is also at war with the media. Funny as it may sound, the government is right to say that the media are acting in a populist and exaggerated manner. Why not ask the administrations that came before them what they had to endure. No one is untouchable in the populist arena and the wild race for high TV ratings. The merchants of indignation and those profiting from people’s pain change their tune as soon as they realize that it’s no longer selling.

The government is trying to find antidotes to the wave of resentment, but it has lost its ability to control the agenda and determine what happens next. It comes across as an administration taking cover at Maximos Mansion, a governing body that feels everyone is against it and no one understands it.

Of course Tsipras has already demonstrated that he knows how to survive politically and that he has his own way of communicating with a large part of the population. What he doesn’t have, however, is a lot of time, because in politics, there comes a point when if you take a downhill turn it’s hard to turn the game around.

The opposition will face its own dilemmas. Many voters are deeply frustrated with the government, some due to tax and contribution hikes, others because of institutional missteps. There is a lot of pressure on New Democracy for it to become a no-boundaries opposition party. Is there anyone who comprehends the indignant voters that wouldn’t foster the populist beast at the same time? Besides, once you start riding it, the beast will take control and the leader will start resembling a beginner rodeo rider. If you have risen to power riding the beast it is equally hard to dismount it. And as soon as you get off it, the betrayed beast will go after you with a vengeance. This has been the experience of the last few years. The worst mistakes made by Greece’s political leaders were made while they were in opposition. They failed to prepare both themselves and public opinion adequately. They ended up paying a hefty price. They are still paying, and so are we.

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