PM refuses to strike back

With his government under fire over recent corruption cases involving people close to ministers and other ruling party officials, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has chosen to take the high ground and is resisting calls for a tougher stance against the opposition Socialists. «It is a fact that, for several years, polarization and division have hurt the country. I believe that (the opposition’s confrontational tactics) have been politically, historically and ethically condemned and there is no way I will go along with that,» Karamanlis said on the sidelines of a ceremony to mark the International Day for the Elderly. When in opposition, Karamanlis had often used the tactics he now denounces, often on much flimsier evidence. His change of tactics may be partly defensive, especially with the local elections in two weeks’ time, but is also based on calculation: opinion polls show that the public does not approve of confrontational politics. However, the recent cases have eroded the ruling New Democracy’s advantage on the issue of corruption, which it exploited with success ahead of the last national election. In a poll published in Sunday’s To Vima newspaper, a relative majority of respondents (34 percent) said corruption under the Socialists was worse, but 28 percent said it is worse under the ruling conservatives and 31 percent said corruption had stayed the same regardless of who was in government. The government’s response, so far, has been that, unlike its predecessor, it acted immediately and decisively when corruption allegations surfaced. Yet, among New Democracy MPs, as well as the party rank-and-file, there is an unease that if any further scandals erupt, and more ministers are tainted by association, public opinion could shift. In any case, Karamanlis’s tactics, for the moment, include not rocking the boat until the local elections are over and making himself as scarce as possible, preferring to let his communications team speak on his behalf.