Simitis’s reformist wand

Yielding to the siren song of populism is the rule rather than the exception for governments at pre-election time. But there are some informal limits that the protagonists must respect in order not to undermine the foundations of democracy. The main problem with the government pledges is their blatant and provocative opportunism. What was a threat to the economy just a few months ago is now within limits. With shocking ease, Costas Simitis lied that the «social package» will be funded from a budgetary surplus. In truth, it will widen an already exploding public debt. The premier did not have the political courage to say so and still defend the pressing need to enhance social cohesion – maybe because he does not really care about the poor. On a rhetorical level, he always states his sensitivity. But in practice, things are quite different. Greece’s uneven wealth distribution is the result of his policies alone. Those who praised Simitis for this sad achievement now complain that the handouts will wreck the economy, though these champions of fiscal austerity applaud the government whenever it opens the spigot on public money to the benefit of business cronies. The premier has reason to complain about their lack of understanding, despite their being well aware that the handouts do not serve genuine welfare concerns but the government’s election purposes – demonstrated by the fact that a number of the measures target the middle class rather than the low-income groups. In terms of pre-election populism, late PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou pales next to his reformist successor. Thanks to unprecedented support from the media, however, Simitis does not run the risk of going down as a populist. His reformist wand enables him to transform pre-election populism into social sensitivity.

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