Limit to handouts before elections

Less than three weeks since the prime minister’s announcement of a handout package, it is clear that this electoral campaign tactic on the part of the government has no real purpose. The government is dealing with a wave of claims and strike action, in the face of which – whether claims for pay raises or tax deductions – it appears to be forced to give in. Digging its heels in at this stage would only provoke a sense of injustice and disillusionment, given the fact that it has already given in to claims in various sectors. This slippery slope has already endangered the country’s fiscal balance, in a period of inflated deficits. But apart from the negative economic repercussions, the tactic of electoral campaign handouts has raised serious questions of political ethics and democratic representation. Ethical questions arise because toward the end of its term, the government appears to be embarking on expenditures of such magnitude that it will tie the hands of the next government, at least for the first year of its term. Democratic representation is also in question as the concessions, because they are part of an election campaign, are being made to those groups with greater potential for exerting political pressure (due to their size, level of organization, or simply their privileged contact with power centers), and not to those who might deserve such special treatment. If the handouts and concessions continue, the next government will be faced with faits accompli. It will have to pay for things that are being decided now, but will not be able to support those sectors of the community who do not have the political power to exert pressure successfully at present, but whose rights will have to be recognized. It would be no exaggeration to say that in this way, the impact of the dissatisfied masses will fall far short of its potential. After all, they will always be able to reject the government, but they will not expect any economic justice from a new government. As the strike action and the demands escalate, a continuation of handouts is both harmful to the economy and undemocratic. For (Prime Minister Costas) Simitis, who has always insisted on the need for judicious and balanced management, it is doubly wrong.

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