Political system put to the test

Greece?s two successive election contests produced a loose government coalition. The power-sharing administration is made up of three ideologically heterogeneous and politically moderate parties, while society is drifting toward the fringes. Sure, a degree of political instability was to be expected. The uneasy, and to some degree unnatural, alliance is under threat as the three parties? campaign pledge to renegotiate the terms of the nation?s bailout agreement has in essence been rejected by the troika of foreign lenders.

PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos is already challenged by fellow socialists. A split of the once-dominant socialist party cannot be ruled out. Critics of Venizelos say he is destined to see great numbers desert the party. For the time being, the former finance minister is trying to forge some sort of a united front with the Democratic Left party of Fotis Kouvelis, who faces problems of his own.

Dissents inside PASOK and Democratic Left are pushing their bosses to take some distance from conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. As a result, the New Democracy chief comes across as the sole champion of strictly implementing the EU/IMF memorandum and of renegotiating the program at some indefinite time in the future.

The exclusive aim of Samaras?s policy is to keep the country in the eurozone — at all cost. It?s a noble ambition, but too bad for him it has to be achieved by implementing the deal negotiated by Venizelos. The crucial meeting among the three leaders fell short of a rift, but the PASOK chairman saw reason to stress that ?responsibility for strategy? lies with Samaras. PASOK?s support of the government could soon be reduced to mere tacit approval.

Samaras may soon come to be seen as the sole coalition partner who does not want to break ties with Greece?s EU peers. That would be a heroic, if unpleasant role. It remains to be seen if voters would be willing to reward him for it.

A segment of conservative voters who have traditionally supported ND have in the past two elections appeared to drift away from the party. The risk of permanent divorce, which should not be underestimated, would turn ND into a center-liberal party, perhaps with sporadic rightist elements.

Greece?s political system has never been this flux; political leaders have never had to backpedal on their campaign pledges in such a short period of time. The abrupt reality check is putting the nation?s political system to the test and the fate of its protagonists is unknown.

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