Lost moderation

There seems to be no end to the government’s spate of announcements and promises – a practice that appears to be PASOK’s main strategy in the runup to the elections. Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his aides are determined to do whatever it takes to reverse opinion polls. All principles and moderation have been sacrificed on the altar of re-election. Ruling officials do not hesitate to hand it all away, regardless of the consequences: wages, pensions, student benefits, tax cuts, debt settlements, legalization of illegal buildings, declassification of forests and who knows what else. Barring the economic objections to the government’s extravaganza, there are also doubts over the effectiveness of this policy. According to recent opinion polls, the handouts have had a marginal effect on voter preference. The subsequent measures over illegal houses and the forests may satisfy a small section of land-grabbers, but they also arouse the general public’s fury. The shower of promises and measures unsettles average citizens; crude as it is, it merely broadcasts the government’s vote-grabbing actions. All sense of moderation has been lost, rousing people’s mistrust. The publicity stunt may in fact widen the gap between PASOK and the opposition. All this highlights the strategic crisis of a party which vowed to reform the political system only to return to its former populism when the need arose. This is an old dilemma, one that was decided in the early years of the Simitis administration. Even in 1997, the prime minister was vacillating between clean and dirty policies. And he chose the latter, motivated by the cynicism that dogs Greek society. Today, he is simply paying for that choice. His colleagues may soon be tempted to spell out what the late Melina Mercouri said of PASOK in the past: «People don’t like us anymore, Mr Chairman.»

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