Before and after are very different things

A pre-election promise is by its very nature a different thing from a post-election announcement. A promise, by virtue of its timing, is insensitive to political limitations and financial terms. Announcements, on the other hand, must follow the rules of knowledge and measured reflection. They cannot be the product of selfish voluntarism.

The wish, or rather the inclination, to maintain some consistency between a promise and an announcement (which is politically honest and thus less common) has always distinguished political parties: you have the cynical administrators of stagnation, on one hand, and the true reformists that are willing to attempt radical change, on the other.

Such a wish, however, does not mean that politicians should not reflect on facts, taking into consideration those that differ from what they had in mind before the elections. Before the ballot, you have the freedom to act in a vacuum – even if you do not do so all of the time. After, however, doing so would be seen as amoral.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s comments to Stern magazine that “Greece will be a different country in six months” came only 20 days after SYRIZA was elected to government. As a result, it should be judged not as another maximalist pre-election promise, but as a binding announcement that was made after carefully weighing all the facts: economic figures, the balance of power at home and abroad, and public sentiment.

For the time being, it looks as if Tsipras’s announcement is based solely on the mood of society – judging by the pro-government rallies that look place over the previous days and the popularity of the administration’s stance in negotiations with Greece’s foreign lenders. To be sure, a radical transformation of Greece would require support for all the changes that we would make it a “normal country,” so to say.

That said, no one can deny that Greece needs to change spectacularly in the coming months. It needs to alleviate the pain of the poor, rebuild a welfare state that will cut waste and operate with transparency. It must finally implement a tax system where everyone pays their fair share (and also collect money from “parasitic” capital). It must create a public broadcaster that does not just exist to flatter power and make jobs for the ruling party’s acolytes.

The new government should also boost its moral credentials by introducing proportional representation in the electoral system. Such a gesture would demonstrate that this government respects its principles. And that alone would signal a huge change for this country.