Harmful tactics

The – clearly premeditated – attack by PASOK’s new campaign chief Theodoros Pangalos on New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis was bound to make a bad impression. Some saw Pangalos’s insults as the expression of his supposedly impulsive and self-destructive personality and of his urge to make a flamboyant display soon after being brought back to the front line of the ruling Socialists. But that is not the case. Pangalos’s polarizing tactics were not his personal choice, but PASOK’s party line. It was reflected in a coordinated weekend outburst against New Democracy orchestrated by senior PASOK cadres (namely, party secretary Michalis Chrysochoidis, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos and Education Minister Petros Efthymiou) while also being underscored in the remarks of the government spokesman yesterday. When asked whether Pangalos’s public language marks a drift toward right-bashing tactics, Christos Protopapas effectively covered for the former minister by responding, «You are going to see all sorts of campaigning.» Karamanlis’s remarks on Saturday evening can now be seen in a different light. «They are employing means of ideological terror… We have seen a return to right-baiting, to the machinations that breed polarization, fanaticism and division,» the conservative leader said. The enfeebled group of reformists flanking the prime minister are struggling to forge solidarity among disgruntled PASOK officials. Successive purges of Simitis’s one-time political allies have stripped the Socialist party of cadres that were essential if it were to wage an electoral battle with some chance of success. This sharp-edged, polarizing strategy is seen as a last resort to rally PASOK’s party base around Simitis. To be sure, more anti-right rhetoric will rain down thick and fast. But it is highly unlikely that it will bear fruit. The deadlock facing PASOK is the result of its own policies. And the consequences of ill-thought-out policies cannot be remedied with polarizing sound bites. Insults cannot substitute for politics. This tactic may fall short of sparing PASOK an electoral defeat but may well injure the country. Cultivating polarization and stirring up passions not only threatens to derail the pre-election climate but can also have long-term repercussions. In this light, Protopapas’s remark that «it’s up to us to safeguard the quality of the election battle» can only be taken as sheer irony.