Aim for substance, not appearances

The ongoing clash between the government and the opposition over the price of medicines has exposed the slipshod, amateurish manner in which leftist SYRIZA has grappled with an issue that is of crucial importance to the average Greek.

Meanwhile, however, the vulgar language employed by conservative Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis in his bid to demolish SYRIZA’s line of defense would be more suited to an administration formed by LAOS, the right-wing populists he once belonged to, or by some other fringe party.

Presenting a set of solid arguments in a cool-headed manner would be enough to expose the poverty of SYRIZA’s arguments. Georgiadis, however, yielded to his baser political instincts.

There would be no point in discussing Greece’s chronic political ailments if it were not for the damage that they inflict on political discourse as well as on the parliamentary system. Faced with an extremely irritating and arbitrary Andreas Papandreou in the early post-1974 years, New Democracy, then in the opposition, had to be firm and consistent – a stance that also enhanced the credibility of the House.

However, false certainties are popular at times of crisis. People often fail to see the risks involved for the political system. It happened on the eve of democracy’s collapse and we are once again experiencing the same delusions today. We are not discussing a repeat of the 1967 dictatorship; a breakdown of the political system could have even graver consequences.

True, the government’s majority is under pressure and PASOK is the weak link in the coalition. If opinion polls are to be trusted, then at least half of the socialist lawmakers led by Evangelos Venizelos stand no chance of reelection in the next vote.

These deputies’ career is over for good, but the magnitude of public resentment means that there is little chance they will be able to return to their former professions. The temptation for a heroic exodus is huge.

Attempts to galvanize the government majority are mainly based on cultivating polarization against SYRIZA and, more recently, on levelling allegations of political and business entanglement. Interestingly, such allegations were for years thrown at PASOK by conservative voters.

If, for a moment, the government stopped putting its energy into pointless PR stunts, if it had the courage to enforce the laws it has voted for, if it sustained the political discourse on the level mandated by the seriousness of the situation, then we would perhaps get to enjoy more social stability and better governance. The political class must aim for substance, not appearances.

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