‘Debating’ the future

The leaders of the five political parties represented in Parliament and the European Parliament held an unprecedented, nationally televised news conference last night. Although this was billed as a «debate,» each responded to specific questions and did not have the opportunity to discuss issues with each other. The discussion gave three small leftist parties, which have received less than 10 percent all together in recent opinion polls, an equal opportunity to share airtime with the two main protagonists. This was an obvious gamble by PASOK leader George Papandreou and New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis. Karamanlis, whose party was ahead of PASOK by about 3 percent in polls last week, had demanded a debate including all party leaders, something that Papandreou agreed to late on Tuesday night. Communist Party General Secretary Aleka Papariga, Synaspismos Left Coalition leader Nikos Constantopoulos, and Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI) leader Dimitris Tsovolas joined the two main party leaders in a studio at state broadcaster ERT. The discussion began shortly after 9 p.m. and continued past 11.30 p.m. Five journalists, coordinated by a sixth, asked each leader a question on social policy, foreign affairs, the economy, public administration, education and one question on any other issue. A follow-up question was allowed each time. The politicians had 90 seconds in which to reply. Papandreou, who recently took charge of the ruling party, defended PASOK’s past achievements and promised to solve problems in the «new era» that he proclaimed in every answer. He was up against four opposition parties, with the smaller three (two of which are struggling to cross the 3 percent threshold for entry into Parliament) able to make promises to every social group – from low-income pensioners to farmers. The Communist Party, for example, wants a minimum income of 1,100 euros per month (double the present amount), while DIKKI wants this to reach 1,250 euros in four years. Explaining how Greece could afford this, the Communist Party’s Papariga said: «The Greek economy can endure easily… We are opposed to the plutocracy, whether it be Greek, European or global.» Regarding low-income pensioners, Papandreou said: «I feel their pain. I share it… I understand the problem. We will do all we can within our abilities to help these people.» Also on the issue of the economy, Karamanlis said, «The core issue is for this country to begin to produce.» He echoed the call of new PASOK convert, former Synaspismos member Mimis Androulakis, to declare, «We must have one aim: jobs, jobs, jobs.» Arguing that people should vote for PASOK after its many years in power, Papandreou said: «We have achieved much… I understand the problems.» He declared «zero tolerance for corruption» and added, «We ourselves are changing ourselves.»