Ongoing developments in Greece’s center-left are reminiscent of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in the 1930s: There is an abundance of factionalism, skirmishing and allegations of opportunism. There are also endless discussions about whether change must come from above or below, whether the election of a leader should come before the party is established, and whether the procedure is adequately political or not.
It’s already been four years since the formation of the so-called Initiative of the 58. The demand for a single center-left movement, a party that will occupy the political ground between conservative New Democracy and ruling leftist SYRIZA, still stands. But the venture is losing its luster by the year.
What at first seemed like a well-intended venture now seems less so. Polarization is growing and conflict is increasingly turning out to be more personal than ideological.
However, this can never be entirely true. The candidates are purveyors of ideology. They each have their own history and political past, and they will be judged on the basis of their actions.
Socialist PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata, for example, abstained during the parliamentary vote on the cohabitation agreement. I do not know the reason behind her decision, and I do not really care; but I do remember she chose not to take part in passing an important piece of legislation. On the other hand, although Gennimata is criticized as the political product of nepotism, partisan machinations and her father’s political legacy (the late Giorgos Gennimatas was a PASOK heavyweight), she did manage to keep her party united at an extremely difficult time.
Stavros Theodorakis, leader of centrist party To Potami and a former journalist, has fought many battles over issues that are not always popular in Greek society, such as the separation of Church and state. He handled his recent health problem bravely without trying to elicit pity and, also, he avoided being secretive.
Meanwhile, Giorgos Kaminis could have done a better job as Athens mayor, especially in dealing with the capital’s waste problem, but he did play a leading role in the “Yes” campaign during the 2015 referendum on whether Greece should accept a new bailout deal from creditors, effectively keeping it in the eurozone. Kaminis has also kept a firm stance toward the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party.
For his part, Yiannis Ragousis clashed with Greece’s taxi drivers when he was a PASOK minister – a sector that most politicians have largely tried to appease.
According to opinion polls, between 5 and 10 percent of Greeks say they will participate in the November vote. If organizers could find a way to guarantee the security of electronic voting, that number could grow.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis drew his legitimacy from an open election process. The same will apply to the leader of the new party.
At some point, the center-left must overcome the ills of old-party factionalism and, like a dedicated communist, proudly declare: “There is only one party: the center-left.”
The rest will be decided in due course.