Careful what you wish for

Everyone is in a rush to become prime minister in this country, as if they have not learned a single thing from its political history.

While still in opposition, PASOK’s George Papandreou made persistent calls for elections “right now,” as he put it. Papandreou, who went on to become prime minister, should have been more careful about what he wished for because he ended up with a hot potato in his hands which burned him as well as the country.

I can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out had Papandreou waited until May 2010 instead of pushing for a snap poll. It would be Costas Karamanlis, the conservative prime minister, who would have had to deal with the Greek debt crisis and history would have unfolded in a very different way. Papandreou went on to shun calls for consensus on the debt issue in spring of 2009 and led the country to elections. Sure, he quenched his partisan egotism, but that didn’t do Greece much good.

Similarly, Antonis Samaras, eager for a general election, pressed Lucas Papademos’s technocratic administration to deal with nothing more than the PSI. Again, had Samaras shown a little more patience at the time and given the interim government some time to see through certain structural reforms, his own task would have been much easier. After becoming premier, Samaras had to push hard, he grew tired, and eventually ended up with too much on his plate.

And now of course there is Tsipras, who is also in a hurry to become top dog. He’d better have a group of experts hiding somewhere in Koumoundourou that can handle the burning financial and domestic issues. Also, one can only pray he has a detailed plan relying on more than popular support and the charm of novelty. And he’d better appreciate the risks for the government and those in government.

You’re probably thinking you’ve heard all that before. And, as always, anyone who claims that there can be a different path from that of partisan polarization is bound to come under fire from the power-hungry party cadres.

However, at the end of the day, responsibility does not lie with the armies of sycophants or the cronies who readily defect to another party when things go awry. Responsibility lies with the leader. He is the one who will be judged by history, he is the one who has the final say. Haste carries risk and over-the-top behavior can come with a hefty price tag. It may be convenient when you are in opposition but it’ll haunt you when you come to power. These days, the distance between election triumph and disaster is mighty short. This is hopefully common knowledge by now.

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