Between a rock and a hard place

Greece appears to headed to elections full speed. Recent polls show that PASOK and New Democracy are in decline, while the the left-wing parties and some groupings on the edges of the political spectrum are growing in strength.

Of course, we should always keep in mind that public surveys are much like Polaroid photos — they provide little more than a momentary depiction of the subjects? dispositions.

People in Greece are in despair because they see no light at the end of the tunnel. Can this situation improve by early May? The Americans say that people vote with their pockets. Right now, the lack of liquidity in businesses and the markets has all but paralyzed economic activity. Developments like the haircut on bonds or the PSI debt swap are all significant, of course, but they hardly make any difference for ordinary people whose pockets are empty. Experienced bankers see no quick fix to Greece?s liquidity problem. Even export-oriented businesses are finding it hard to get by as they face trouble issuing letters of guarantee. Regrettably, the European institutions that could help solve these problems are moving at a very slow pace. The amount of red tape is not helping much either, as institutions seem unable to take any risk related to Greece.

Money from the debt that the state owes to businesses and the restart of big public works across the country will help kick-start the stagnant economy, but we will have to wait for quite some time before that happens.

All this means that the coming general elections will take place in a grim atmosphere and with no sign of recovery in the horizon. Perhaps it would be wiser for Greece?s political parties to wait for the dust to settle before going to elections. Some signs of political and economic reform would also be welcomed by disaffected voters. Too bad the political system is caught up in the idea of a snap poll and will now have to undertake the risks that this decision involves.

How can the mainstream parties grapple with the bottomless well of frustration and skepticism? First of all, they have to convince the people that they are not out of touch with society; that they are not here to flatter people, but rather to listen to them and change according to what they have to say.

ND leader Antonis Samaras has in recent months made some steps in that direction. He fought against the unionists affiliated with his conservative party, he proposed the abolition of the so-called university asylum law, and talks about the need to ban ministers from keeping their parliamentary posts. People are eager to see new, responsible politicians who can convince them that they know their stuff and are ready to mange the crisis. The center-right used to have a many such people among its ranks, and it must now win the wager of renewal: Bringing in new faces, making radical changes to political institutions such as reducing the number of deputies or ejecting unionists from party bodies, so it can convince society that something is changing in our political system.

The same applies to PASOK, which has kept its feet in two boats as the reformist faction was pitted against the party?s old guard, before both boats went down. From the moment that the reformists back-pedalled form their original ambitions, the wager for the next leadership will be the one won by Tony Blair in Britain when he made his New Labour party a moderate, modern left-of-center party that did not hesitate to severe its ties to the unions and the extreme populist elements. If PASOK can bring back all the skilled cadres that George Papandreou snubbed, then it may be able to convince voters it means business.

I sympathize with voters who do not want to vote for either of the two main parties but at the same time feel that neither the left nor the far left and far right parties have something pragmatic to offer. People are desperate but do not want to repeat past mistakes again.

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