OPINION

Overreaction

This is not the first time that the government – Costas Simitis’s administration in particular – has reacted sharply to the release of a public survey. Furthermore, this is not the first time that PASOK has seemed to be trailing New Democracy by a large margin – without this provoking any response save expressions of confidence that the governing party will bounce back by the time of the election. The alternating government reactions – i.e. its swinging from overreaction to a milder stance – appear to be related to the climate within PASOK and, more importantly, to the degree to which each survey undermines the status of the prime minister inside the party. For example, the opinion polls published last fall provoked a fierce reaction from the Socialist leadership, as they contradicted claims of the premier’s rising popularity – claims that were based upon the dismantling of the November 17 terrorist organization and developments on the Cyprus issue. Back then, the government conveyed the impression that it was annoyed with the fact that the findings shattered the delusion that these achievements had little impact upon public opinion. The current reactions by the ruling elite are even more absurd. The MRB poll caused a big stir, accompanied by pompous allegations over intentional leaks and calls for the pollsters to explain themselves. And all this for just another poll that illustrates the widening chasm between the two parties. Besides, this has not been a very good period for the government and the conservative lead was, at the very least, expected. Such an overreaction, bordering on political absurdity, would clearly not have occurred had PASOK been free of in-party bickering and had most cadres not believed that PASOK’s problems lie with the decisions of the prime minister. Expected as the findings of the recent survey may have been, they came to reinforce the above impression. This explains the paradoxical indignation of the party’s leadership, as it came to see that it was being portrayed as the main stumbling block to PASOK’s hopes of re-election. This interpretation seems to account for the lack of moderation and cool-headedness in government reactions. Even in this light, however, its response was immoderate and silly. Questions about why and how a survey was published cannot be a government’s central political issue. The only question is whether the popular discontent reflected in the polls is real and justified and what the government can do to alleviate its causes.