Toward a new kind of election

Lucas Papademos?s partners in the government — Antonis Samaras of New Democracy and Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK — hailed in optimistic tones the decision of the Eurogroup, which also included a deal for bondholders of Greek debt to accept a write-down. There is no point in questioning their authority, but it is worth remembering that the benefits of such deals can only be judged once they are put into practice.

Since then, the specter, or — to put it mildly — the prospect, of general elections has emerged. There is nothing unusual about the fact that Samaras and PASOK leadership hopeful Venizelos want elections as soon as possible. Both parties have entered a phase of near-disintegration that can be expected to worsen significantly as the measures they have to impose by June are abhorrent to the average Greek.

Both men are hastening to get through the door before the worst happens, hoping to head off the emergence of new political parties and any further gains in popularity by the parties of the left. The optimism they have generated within the political system over the decisions made in Brussels will, therefore, be fervently maintained.

However, because public opinion polls have recorded a significant drop in the popularity of the country?s two biggest parties and because the next government is sure to be a coalition of some sort that will be called upon to manage the policy drawn up by PASOK — first by Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou and then by his successor, Venizelos — it would be wise for the electoral contest to be held outside the context of the traditional rivalry between the two parties, which have anyway converged so much over the economy and other issues that the differences between them are almost imperceptible.

New Democracy and PASOK may try to lure voters by highlighting the quality of their staff; but they are more likely to cause mirth. What is certain is that they will both focus their campaigns on the hopeful prospects of remaining in the euro and the abyss of returning to the drachma. A lot of coarseness is inevitable on such a playing field.

The sensible thing to do — especially after Samaras?s about-face — would be for PASOK and ND to continue supporting Papademos. It is clear that over the past few days the two parties have coveted the ?legitimization? of their decisions. But it may be too late, as the skepticism of the people toward all politicians is growing by the day. Too bad; they should have been more wary, because no system collapses unless the political leadership leads it to destruction.