Nowadays, the actions of politicians are strongly geared toward their public image. In the era of television and the internet, the image and the message emitted by the prime minister or the leader of the opposition compete with the substance.
A visit by a leader to a disaster area, the clothes he or she wears, the time of the day he/she goes, and whether there are cameras present or not are no longer spontaneous decisions. They are the product of strategic planning and an integral part of each politician’s narrative.
I will not comment on the briefing received by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the deadly fires in eastern Attica last Monday night, nor his visit and that of the leader of the main opposition to the devastated coastal town of Mati. I will focus on Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s choice not to take the beaten track and slip into the negative approach we usually see after disasters, with press statement along the lines of “I phoned the prime minister, asked him for information, and told him that we consider him to be solely responsible...”
Instead, he seemed to adopt a more constructive approach. He issued an invitation to the prime minister for them to find some common ground and even proposed that they cooperate, following what was a national tragedy.
The proposal submitted by New Democracy’s leader to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for assistance for the maintenance and purchase of equipment needed by the Hellenic Fire Service, so that it could provide immediate response to emergencies and prevent such tragedies, was an excellent move, not only for its image, but also in terms of substance. The SNF’s management has already announced that it will provide a 25-million-euro grant for this purpose.
The proposal had been preceded by a moderate reaction when the catastrophe became apparent. The first statement included a reference to the “chronic” problems of unlicensed construction, for which all the governments of the past are responsible. And then came this idea of asking the SNF for assistance, to which the prime minister responded positively.
It was a rare example of an opposition party maintaining a constructive role. The approach seemed to be: We mourn the victims, but we also propose specific actions to avoid having more in the future.
In the eyes of an objective observer – who politically reflects the view of the sober, nonpartisan, middle-ground part of the electorate, which is often the part that plays a critical role in the election of governments – the behavior of the main opposition leader was a positive surprise.
One can only hope that this move may prove a turning point in Greek politics, with citizens from now on demanding that the party that happens to be in opposition does not limit itself to yelling, but instead tables proposals that are useful to society.