Eluding the crisis

The meeting of PASOK’s Executive Bureau, in view of the joint Central Committee and Parliamentary Group session on May 27, was little help in deciphering the prime minister’s intentions. The gathering merely confirmed that any measures to reverse the current, highly unfavorable climate will be taken after the conclusion of Greece’s EU presidency. As yesterday’s session underscored, Costas Simitis plans to keep to the beaten track – at least as far as the core of his political rhetoric is concerned. Right-bashing, which was never given up completely, will rain down thick and fast. The fierce reaction by Education Minister Petros Efthymiou to the announcement of conservative opposition New Democracy’s education program is not an isolated incident. Maximos Mansion expects all Socialist ministers to prevent the conservative camp from giving the impression that it has hammered out a decent program for ruling the country. A second aspect of the premier’s rhetoric is that the PASOK government, and he personally, is being systematically undermined by big business interests. This is an ironic claim to make given that Simitis is, perhaps, the only leader in Greece’s modern history who has from the outset enjoyed the strong backing of the business community and of the vast majority of the local media. Simitis and his ministers should know that the political benefits of evading a crisis are, at best, short-term ones. It is common knowledge that the heart of PASOK’s problem lies elsewhere, namely in its ties with broader society. PASOK’s links to its traditional supporters have become very loose. The stock market bust and the ongoing economic malaise have pushed many disaffected followers away from the Socialist party. The grim economic and social environment seriously undercuts the effectiveness of public relations tactics. No communication trick can alleviate the pressure felt by the vast majority of the population. The same applies to moves such as a government shake-up or even the election of a new party leadership. What people expect is a government able to solve problems. But it is far from certain that the ruling party has the strength and the time to reverse a negative trend in voter preference, which appears to have been consolidated.

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