The changing political landscape

No one could have foreseen a few months ago what sweeping changes the economic crisis would bring to the political landscape. Well-known politicians disappeared from the scene, the two extremes saw an impressive rise in popularity, the far right is experiencing an unprecedented boost and once-mighty parties are being shaken to their cores.

Political roles are also changing. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has emerged in the past few months as a responsible leader who doesn?t mince his words, who takes risks and stands by what he believes is in the country?s best interest. Evangelos Venizelos, meanwhile, seems to have abandoned the role of responsible centrist politician, for which he received the backing of a part of the middle class. His ambition — or maybe insecurity — has caused him to waver dangerously, and there is some concern regarding what role he will play in the near future when major decisions need to be taken.

The crisis also shone a spotlight on the deeper problems of Greece?s political parties. The tsunami of populism that has swept away rational discourse for the past 30 years has blurred many of the parties? dividing lines and ideological identities. This has never been more apparent than today. Just look at how certain New Democracy unionists come across as belonging to Communist-backed PAME or far-left SYRIZA in their proclamations. Obviously they didn?t join ND because they believed in the center-right, European, neoliberal party, but rather because they found a group that would protect their labor rights, give them a cushy position and find a job for their kids. ND has other officials who seem to echo the ultranationalist Golden Dawn, especially from the circle of Samaras?s early days in the party who chose not to follow him down a more rational path.

PASOK has also fallen victim to its own fissures and ideological clashes, as its leading union leaders found a new home with SYRIZA. It?s a good thing we have Democratic Left, not because it?s anyone?s crutch, but because it represents a safe choice for voters who feel bereft, caught between the extremes and the tough choices of the memorandum.

The risk now is that if ND, PASOK and Democratic Left don?t change the faces, ideas and ethical conduct of their parties, the majority of voters will head to the edges. We need better political parties, with fresh, unsullied people. This is the only way that they will be saved given the difficult choices that they have ahead. If they don?t, then don?t be surprised if, as one veteran politician said recently, we end with SYRIZA in government and Golden Dawn in the opposition.

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