New Democracy’s hasty decision to initiate the process for electing a new party leader has proven unwise. At a time when the country is locked in a struggle to survive (passing painful albeit decisive measures, program review, bank recapitalization, debt relief), the main opposition is lost in politically damaging navel-gazing. Many a conservative is indulging in populism in the process.
It’s hard to see why the party could not continue for a few more months with Evangelos Meimarakis at the helm. Meimarakis might have been less than inspiring as a leader, but he did manage to preserve the party’s unity. New Democracy’s regular conference was after all set for this coming spring, and could have prepared the ground for the election of a new leader.
In contrast, the emergence of four candidates and subsequent in-party strife has made it impossible to maintain a responsible stance mandated by circumstances and the key issues at stake, such as the social security and labor system reforms.
New Democracy appears to articulate a public language that is, at least in part, critical of the bailout agreement. This has been a cause of surprise, if not frustration, among Greece’s European partners, particularly parties which are ideologically akin to ND.
The situation is bordering on the ridiculous: Opposition parties protest the memorandum only to endorse and implement it when they climb to power. This time we clearly saw them slipping back into the anti-bailout mantle as they returned to the opposition. This political theater of populism must come to an end.
Following SYRIZA’s shift toward pragmatism, its endorsement of the memorandum and the promotion of unpopular austerity measures, New Democracy had a unique opportunity to break with the nasty tradition of populist opposition politics. Here was an opportunity to come across as a responsible, consistent and reliable party. Regrettably, the conservatives did not have the courage to do so. ND is a sorry excuse for a modern European center-right party.
Perhaps it’s not easy for the pro-Europe liberal members of New Democracy, champions of meritocracy and a free market economy who don’t just tolerate but actually believe in diversity, to coexist in the same party as conservative patriots, politicians that are essentially statist and, occasionally, racist.
Conservative officials must sober up. Otherwise their antics, combined with the fact that there is no scenario of a quick return to power (a prospect that had kept the party together in the past), will sooner or later lead the party to break up into at least two sides, a liberal and a conservative one, with all the implications that such a split would have on the country’s political landscape.