Antonis Samaras is facing the kind of dilemmas confronted by Republican candidates running for the US presidency. In order to win their party?s primaries they have to take their cue from extreme political figures and adopt radical positions, while in order to win the national elections they have to woo the center and disengage from such extreme posturing.
It is not a simple equation.
The leader of New Democracy has made a serious and responsible shift in his overall stance. He agreed on every single candidate proposed for the position of premier during the scramble for a leader for Greece and approved the formation of a unity government. Later, he made another significant departure when he agreed to sign a letter addressed to the country?s partners and creditors in order to speed up the release of the sixth tranche of the bailout loan.
This kind of shift was not easy for Samaras. New Democracy had trained its members in extreme anti-memorandum talk which, in some cases, had become dangerously over-the-top. The party at one point did not limit itself to dishing out harsh criticism on the policy mix outlined in the memorandum or on the mistake of over-taxation, for instance, but also brought into the political debate the extreme theory that getting Greece to give up its sovereignty was part of a plan designed by nefarious German and other forces.
At the same time, some within the party were even nurturing the delusion that a solution could be found to Greece?s predicament from outside the troika and the memorandum, with funding from China, Brazil and Timbuktu.
Now, Samaras has acquired first-hand knowledge of the situation and the alternatives, what few there are of them, that are available to the country. He knows what kind of choices he will face in the future, provided he is elected prime minister. There are only a small handful of choices for Greece, while there can be no doubt as to what our foreigners partners expect from us. Angela Merkel — to give credit where credit is due — is not the only European leader to understand that emphasis must be placed on growth in Greece and other countries that are on the path of austerity reforms. This has been a steady position adopted by the leader of New Democracy all along.
Samaras?s shift, however, led to strong reactions from within the conservative party and the more radical elements of the political spectrum. Unionists, anti-Western nationalists/patriots, drachma advocates and others are angered by Samaras?s shift and the fact that he now accepts British law for country?s new bonds, that he sits at the same table with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and that he seems prepared to approve, with little resistance, a raft of painful new measures.
However, Samaras appears to be gaining ground with the middle class and the business world, who see a broken PASOK and have little hope for the formation of a new, credible and energetic political entity.
The road ahead will be difficult and long. Samaras will be pressured from all sides, from Greece?s partners and creditors as well as from elements within his own party. There will be those who will pressure him into promises of putting heads on the block and adopting irrational conspiracy theories.
Samaras surely knows that even if he does get elected with a clear majority things will be particularly tough. He knows that the only way to go now is that of raw honesty before the elections, and unity and national consensus after them.