Outstanding issue of the president’s successor looms

The chatter about who is to become the next president of Greece has taken on an impetus of its own in the past few weeks, so it makes little sense to find out which party initiated it and which is maintaining it. Most analysts agree that both the government and opposition must address the issue of who and what will benefit from the ongoing uncertainty about a successor to Costis Stephanopoulos, and the serious political consequences that have already arisen. These thoughts are shared by a number of deputies from the ruling New Democracy party, who believe that the public are no longer convinced by the official government line that «any discussion of the subject is untimely.» These deputies note that the gossip that has grown up around the names that have been mentioned by government sources overshadow all other government activities, furnishing PASOK with an opportunity to accuse ministers of inertia or even of lacking a program and objectives. «They ask us in our regional offices: ‘Why don’t you announce a name and get it over with?’ and we don’t know what to tell them,» said one deputy. New Democracy ND takes the diametrically opposing view that has been held for some time now by the secretary at the party’s headquarters on Rigillis Street. Evangelos Meimarakis seems to think that prolonging the debate about the presidential candidate exclusively harms PASOK, as it not only confirms ND’s political power in that it can announce the name of the next president whenever it likes, but it also enables the government to spring an electoral surprise. In private conversation, both Rigillis officials and a number of PASOK officials accept that the last thing that would benefit the opposition at present is early elections. For some days now, however, a third viewpoint has been emerging, which probably reflects the attitude of the majority of voters, regardless of party affiliation. Political analysts claim that while ND, for obvious party reasons, deems that it benefits from the unresolved matter, in fact, the protracted discussion does it no good. And this is because, especially in the past few days and with the help of the opposition press, all current issues are being linked directly to the government’s presumed intention of calling early elections and thus creating political instability and even uncertainty. A typical example is that of national issues (FYROM, Turkey’s path to Europe) which have been linked to the likelihood of early elections, or even the discussion of the tax bill, of which one opposition newspaper wrote: «It did not include the austerity measures the government has planned because they will be taken after elections, probably in March.» A similar statement was made by former minister Evangelos Venizelos, who said early elections could also be triggered by the conclusions of the parliamentary committee now investigating past defense contracts. These discussions have worried some government officials, who note the risk that protracted political uncertainty might make it even more difficult for ND to select a candidate. The arguments of those who believe that Maximos Mansion should have chosen a name and solved the problem some time ago raise another factor. This is the likelihood that the public already attributes the procrastination not to a deliberate choice, or even to expediency, but to the premier’s inability to find a suitable successor to Stephanopoulos. This version has been aired comprehensively at PASOK headquarters on Harilaou Trikoupi St. One PASOK source said: «Those deputies from Rigillis who are pleased that the published names have divided opposition officials should realize that by trashing almost all the known candidates so far, they have narrowed ND’s options even further.» Many in PASOK assume that Karamanlis’s ultimate choice will be a politically colorless personality who will acceptable to the opposition but whom the prime minister will have to present to the public as the right choice. Party figure Observers also note that having procrastinated, the government will have to explain itself if it does select someone from ND who is not acceptable to PASOK. They offer arguments from the recent past, recalling that in 1999 when ND was in opposition, it feared bringing elections forward by a year and belatedly accepted Stephanopoulos, whom PASOK and POLAN had proposed six months earlier. If ND now chooses someone from its own party who elicits a loud «no» from PASOK, it will once again have to persuade the public as to why they should go to the polls again, less than a year after the last elections.