A fatal faux pas

The bonanza of campaign handouts by Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his ministerial aides presents a government image that is far from flattering. From the benefits to farmers, pensioners, students’ families, Gypsies and a plethora of other social groups, to the legalization of illegally built buildings and construction on forestland, the PASOK administration has come up with all sorts of baits in an attempt to sway the majority of the electorate. To be sure, the runup to the polls always sees a hypocritical surge of government interest in the financial difficulties of the the low- and middle-income strata, prompting increased social spending in the hope of attracting more votes. But the recent descent of the one-time prudent and restrained Simitis into vote-grabbing tactics has outdone all pre-election sins witnessed in Greece’s modern political history. The premier’s recently adopted policy conveys the impression of a government which, facing the specter of defeat, is yielding to growing social demands in order to save the day. It is not certain whether the wave of strikes that are being organized by an increasing number of social groups – which have figured out the government’s attempt to cover up its political incompetence with handouts – will force Simitis to grasp the implications of his policies. First of all, taxpayers will soon be called upon to pay the heavy price of all these benefits. It is common knowledge that the government is not handing out non-existent surpluses but worse, slices from the carcass of a budget already in the red. The economic cost will come hand-in-hand with a social and environmental one. But even if Simitis considers the above to be subordinate to his goal of prolonging his grip on power, he should be more worried about the dire effect of such tactics on his own political image. Simitis has already ruled the country for eight consecutive years. Despite having pushed through many unpopular measures, he has created a respected political capital. However, Simitis has already used up some of it by protecting various entangled interests. It would be a pity if he became fully discredited by a desperate attempt to extend his premiership. Simitis would be committing a fatal political faux pas.

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