Public priorities

The political confrontation between the government and the opposition has undergone a gradual, negative transformation that the public has only recently begun to comprehend. The opposition does not control and monitor government work; or so the government has it. It claims that the opposition indulges in nothing but mudslinging. According to this rationale, the government does not need to provide evidence or be accountable to the opposition. Instead, it can ignore, distort or even return its criticism. (Last week, the former public works minister and current Socialist party secretary, Costas Laliotis, and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou blamed the Attiki Odos budget overruns on New Democracy’s time in office 10 years ago, on the grounds that it did not carry out all the necessary studies.) A similar situation is taking place in Parliament, where ministers ask their deputies to answer the questions put to them, while their replies tend to be arrogant, incomplete, aggressive and derogatory for the opposition deputy and party. Addressing the Cabinet last week, Costas Simitis rebuffed opposition criticism as «an attempt to slur» the government, setting the parliamentary tone for his Socialist cadres. The government gives the impression that this confrontation with the opposition party – which under the Constitution has not only the right but the obligation to monitor the government’s work – takes place out of the public eye and becomes a narrow political process where the two actually exchange roles, with the government criticizing the opposition rather than vice versa, and denouncing its critique as scaremongering. This mentality has pervaded PASOK’s party officials of all ranks, who have been appointed to and exercise power from thousands of posts within the state mechanism. Unchecked and unpunished power thus gradually turns into an arbitrary and immune one. Rather than announcing priorities and goals for the government and setting deadlines for his ministers, urging them to complete in six months what has been frozen over the 33 months of the government’s term so far, the premier should be re-educating his party and teaching Socialist officials the basic rules of our democracy, including the proper political behavior of elected representatives. The coming elections will not be decided by Simitis’s success or failure in fulfilling his 12 priorities. Nor will they be decided by Laliotis’s hoopla over the inauguration of the Rio-Antirio bridge. Rather, they will be determined on the basis of public priorities. And one of these is preventing the danger of uncontrolled and unpunished government from morphing into an arbitrary and unaccountable power.

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