Pre-poll polarization

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday attacked the conservative New Democracy party, saying that the opposition was cooperating with extreme right-wingers. This further contributed to an increase in tension and the climate of polarization before Sunday’s municipal and regional elections. Both the ruling PASOK party and New Democracy helped to create this climate. The government has tried to deprive the conservatives of the political center while preparing the ground for cooperation with left-wing parties in the runoff voting the following week. New Democracy, which is consistently shown as leading in the polls, has tried to present itself as the sure winner of national elections when they are held. It has campaigned under the slogan «Send a message,» highlighting the confrontational nature of the election. Speaking to PASOK’s parliamentary group, Simitis yesterday returned to the rhetoric of the 1980s, charging that New Democracy was flirting with danger by working with extreme right-wingers. This appeared aimed at New Democracy’s hope that in the runoff voting for the Athens-Piraeus «super-prefect,» Giorgos Karadzaferis’s voters would go to the New Democracy candidate. Karadzaferis was evicted from New Democracy in 2000 for insulting top officials. Simitis pointed to the fact that the extreme right had usurped power and formed a military dictatorship between 1967 and 1974. «We do not live in just any European country, where the right-wing can cooperate with the extreme right without consequences,» he said. «Here the extreme right overthrew democracy,» he added. «We call on all progressive citizens in all progressive parties and all progressive citizens who are close to New Democracy to join in a national effort in pursuit of the country’s major targets,» Simitis said. He listed Greece’s priorities as Cyprus’s EU accession, a successful Greek presidency of the EU in the first half of 2003, the successful preparation for the 2004 Olympics and economic and social convergence with other EU countries. New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis, at a rally in Piraeus, scoffed that Simitis’s charges were «laughable.» «He thinks that with personal attacks he will be able to derail public debate,» he added. «He is attempting to get the people caught up in fanaticism and polarization. We will not play this game.»