Reformist populism

Costas Simitis is not the first premier to woo voters by announcing a host of tempting handouts. Lavish promises of increased social spending have always been a part of the Socialists’ populist tradition. Simitis, once again, failed to impress as the reformist political leader – a role that he took on seven years ago – who set out to distance himself from the style and the practices of his late political superior, Andreas Papandreou. For some time, and thanks to strong media support, the premier succeeded in building a moderate, industrious and pragmatic profile, thereby helping PASOK tilt onto a more progressive and less populist track. However, the populism of PASOK’s current leader is both more striking, and more harmful, than that of its founder. First, because it is used by a leader who began his political career as a critic of his populist peers. Second, because he is pursuing populist tactics at a critical period for the country, when it cannot withstand more economic or social pressure. It is not hard to see that the prime minister has announced a welfare package in an attempt to sway alienated voters, and not in order to tackle the problems facing low-income groups. Simitis’s extraordinary measures are not part of a comprehensive plan for economic and social development. Rather, the Socialist leader is resorting to the most old-fashioned populism in an attempt to reverse the slide in popularity for his self-styled reformist party. Simitis is turning a blind eye to fiscal reality, he is willing to bypass the exploding deficit, and he is even ready to bid a militant farewell to the old PASOK that he so much dislikes. There is nothing the good reformist will not do in order to cling to power.

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