Selfish politics

Our political system is, unfortunately, too immature and it remains to be seen whether it will manage to mature in time to avert a breakdown and bankruptcy.

The way the two mainstream party leaders went about discussing the prospect of a unity government left a lot to be desired. Negotiations and talks on that level require preparation, discretion and responsibility. This is what people expect of George Papandreou, Antonis Samaras and the political system. Instead, the two rivals fought like students in a school presidential race.

Few people seem to realize the extent of the damage caused by this unfortunate incident at home and abroad. At home, because the public has been thrown into confusion by a prime minister who first says that he will hold a popular referendum, who then agrees to form a government without him at the helm, before finally reshuffling the Cabinet (an oversized cabinet designed to preserve the in-party equilibrium).

Meanwhile, people are concerned because, although they may agree with some of his policy proposals, they detest his 1980s-style populist language and don?t quite understand how he plans to rule the country.

Whether we like it or not, it is also important to know how outsiders view recent developments. And, the truth is, they are fed up. A fuming Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, is asking, ?Why can Greek politicians not behave like their Portuguese counterparts??

Paradoxically, Greece?s shortcomings are proving to be a strong bargaining chip. No one out there wants to see the Greek economy collapse, so they are doing all they can to save Greece from bankruptcy so that we don?t pose a threat to the system.

Going back to the new government, the question of course is, can it succeed? It will probably manage to pass the latest bunch of measures, to guarantee PASOK?s survival and possibly ensure a new bailout loan. This is no mean task.

However, even if the government can pass the new measures in Parliament, it is far from certain that it can implement them. The technocratic credentials of Evangelos Venizelos, the newly appointed finance minister, are questionable. But he is smart and flexible enough to recruit the right people for the job, and he also has the political weight to make his fellow ministers execute the demands of the new memorandum signed with the country?s foreign lenders.

Of course, at some time the government will have to clash with PASOK?s old guard — and then the administration will have to pick one of two paths: either the path of compromise, which has so often proved disastrous in the past, or the path of confrontation with the unionists and Socialist party backbenchers. That will be a huge wager for Venizelos, who has never had to defend or implement an unpopular policy. He knows that should he pull this off, he should comfortably become PASOK?s next chairman. If he fails, he will have to share the cost of failure. He has every reason to do his best.

The government will probably survive the next obstacle. But the country is unlikely to make it to the one after that without a cross-party agreement on the most burning issues. Nonpartisan experts must be talked into engaging with the administration of the troubled country. The prospect of cross-party consensus has been wrecked, until the next disaster knocks on our door, I am afraid. The existing political staff is struggling to prove it can pull this off in the classic political way, as it were. If they fail, they will go down, along with the rest of the country.