It was like the opposites came together. After decades of brutal political confrontation between their conservative and socialist parties, Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos are now in charge of Greece’s power-sharing government. Their partnership marks a decisive end to the country’s post-1974 era known as the “Metapolitefsi.” Whether the deal was struck to save Greece or for their own political survival is actually beside the point.
PASOK’s chief faces a tricky conundrum. The base of his socialist party has moved to main opposition SYRIZA and other leftist groupings. Some of them may even turn to Fotis Kouvelis, despite some premature forecasts that his Democratic Left party will fade after pulling out of the previous coalition.
In order to survive, and to maintain hopes of a political comeback, Venizelos will have to take an active role on the domestic political stage. This should not be too hard for him as the Foreign Ministry has been mostly spared from the painful adjustments imposed by the country’s international lenders. Venizelos has no experience of foreign affairs although he has worked with Samaras on the “Macedonia” name dispute.
Samaras was removed from the Foreign Ministry during a historic political leaders’ summit presided over by the late President Constantine Karamanlis. Venizelos advocated the embargo on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during the government of late PASOK leader Andreas Papandreou. Greece suffered a lot before it could untangle itself from the mess.
Venizelos is smart enough to know that foreign policy does not really arouse the masses these days. With his rhetorical flourishes and his new post of deputy prime minister, he will dominate parliamentary debates where Samaras seems to have less of an advantage. Venizelos, leader of an over-represented party, will set the ideological tone of the government whenever he deems necessary. After all, the Foreign Ministry stands right next to the Parliament.
Following the departure of Democratic Left, Samaras’s coexistence with PASOK will create problems with his conservative voters. Even if the two leaders managed to sync their pace and strike a good level of cooperation, success would presuppose neutralizing the reactions from the grass roots, particularly those of New Democracy. And that is, perhaps, too much to expect.