OPINION

A dire dilemma for Simitis

The recent Metron Analysis and MRB opinion polls reflect the consolidation of New Democracy’s lead over PASOK, which now seems extremely difficult to reverse. In a way, they underscore Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s dilemma – an urgent one, as the next elections will most likely take place before the end of the government’s official mandate in March 2004 – which is how to react to the specter of PASOK’s defeat after two consecutive victories for the socialists. The most crucial political element to emerge from the two recent opinion polls which consolidate ND’s edge is the cause of the government’s drop. The dismantling of terrorism, Cyprus’s accession to the European Union, the prospects for resolving the division of the Mediterranean island and, more generally, foreign policy-related issues have proved to have little, and ephemeral, effect on Greek voters. This is obviously not because of a lack of concern or sensitivity. It is rather because the ordinary citizen evaluates problems using different criteria than those employed by the government, placing his living standards as top priority. It seems certain, then, that after the publication of the latest opinion polls and after tracing the causes of this loss of popularity, Simitis will be subjected to intense party pressure to adopt a more «social» policy in view of the coming parliamentary elections. We all know what the implications of a more social policy will be at a time when the current economic malaise leaves no room for pre-election handouts or promises. With this in mind, Simitis really has to choose between, on one hand, the interest of the party, which dictates the pursuit of a new election victory by all means and, on the other, the good of the country which, particularly under the present conditions, precludes pre-election debauchery. In case the prime minister is tempted to go for the first option, he should bear in mind that in recent history, the unbridled spending of public funds and unchecked handouts in the runup to elections have never ensured victory for the ruling party. Simitis would run the risk of tarnishing the political image he has built so far without even offsetting this sacrifice with a third election victory. Furthermore, historical recognition for a political leader comes from the way in which he has served, not his party, but the country. When these two duties are in conflict, a politician who seeks to go down in history should face no dilemma. Moreover, party pressure cannot bend the principles and the values that a true political leader must stand for. In light of the above predicament, several socialist officials have recommended (not publicly) that the prime minister quit a few months before the elections and give his place to another figure (Foreign Minister George Papandreou is seen by them as the best option), who will not object to emptying the public coffers before the elections. It’s not clear whether Simitis has considered this alternative. But to do so would demonstrate that a prime minister who is concerned with creating a good name for himself has ignored the bad precedent set by Pontius Pilate.