OPINION

Commentary

The conservative New Democracy opposition party holds a steady lead in the Athens municipality, where it has handily won the last four electoral battles, starting with former ND President Miltiades Evert in 1986. This success, of course, has reflected the fact that it fought those battles while in opposition; local voting is largely an expression of disapproval of, and a warning message to, the ruling party. In effect, ND had no reason to seek out alliances or to support candidates who transcended partisan lines. And it always made sure that the local elections were strongly politicized and hard-fought. Based on this recent history and given current public discontent with the present government, ND will most likely win the municipal elections due next October. A broad victory in the Athens municipality, together with Greece’s two other major cities, Thessaloniki and Patras, could well foreshadow a similar outcome nationally. Hence, while New Democracy is essentially unchallenged by the ruling socialists at the local level, its supremacy is now being questioned – and possibly undermined – from within the party itself. So far, at least seven figures (which is reminiscent of Aeschylus’s Seven against Thebes) have either announced their candidacy for Athens or have been referred to as candidates; Dora Bakoyianni, Stefanos Manos, Viron Polydoras, Giorgos Boulgarakis, and journalists Nikos Hatzinikolaou, Giorgos Kyrtsos, and Giorgos Tragas.However, it is not just the abundance of candidacies that is significant, whether as expressions of political benevolence for the nation’s capital or, more likely, as a means of exploiting a near-certain victory to achieve individual objectives. Rather, it seems to have assumed the character of an unfair, if not relentless, competition accompanied by an exchange of serious accusations and skirmishes, often through the headlines of pro-ND newspapers. At ND’s headquarters there is, of course, deep discontent with the current situation, and the process for selecting candidates has not even begun. At the same time, however, ND president Costas Karamanlis’s ongoing meetings with top party officials are intensifying rather than toning down party dissent. The fact that 10 months remain until the local elections should not appease the ND leadership. It rather raises serious concerns, since the ongoing rift will probably grow wider as even more candidates surface and as alliances and conflicts arise to taint the image and credibility of the conservative opposition. Bakoyianni, who has already expressed her interest in running for the Athens mayoralty and appears the most likely candidate – with Karamanlis’s encouragement – has no doubt drawn the same conclusions. The word is that she intends to postpone her decision until next year, which hardly helps to restore party calm. Responsibility for clarifying the political landscape and for appeasing party dissenters lies with the ND leadership, which once again has been plagued by detrimental navel-gazing. Besides, active political decisions, even those that are forced, are often preferable to those that passively reflect unexpected events.