Can a serious opposition party be elected in this country? This is an important question that remains unanswered. Looking for explanations as to Greece’s current predicament, we should recall the following three scenes involving crisis prime ministers: George Papandreou with eyes weeping from tear gas thrown by police against protesters in Piraeus and later announcing the first memorandum from the island of Kastelorizo; Antonis Samaras making bold announcements at Zappeio Hall and then meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time; and Alexis Tsipras riding on the back of a pickup truck in Syntagma Square, shouting “Go back Mrs Merkel” and now speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Once the ink dries on these pages of history, we will see who was a good prime minister and who wasn’t, but what we know now is that all three fell victim to their opposition persona. The excuses are always the same: “If I don’t step up, someone more extreme will take advantage of the situation;” “Don’t tell me to compromise and be cautious because I’ll lose the momentum of the moment;” “Don’t worry, once I’m elected I’ll change everything around.” The pressure is tremendous. Unionists, hysterical TV commentators and party lackeys looking for jobs all push hopeful prime ministers to populism and impossible promises. Once they come to power, however, they inevitable experience a rude awakening.
Samaras was the only one of the three for whom this happened almost instantly and valuable time was not wasted. For the other two, the time it took them to wake up and grow up came at a price. Under pressure often from their closest aides to live up to pre-election promises, they eventually decide to do what’s right when it’s already too late, particularly for their credibility.
Papandreou’s biggest mistake was his irresponsible style of opposition and his long-windedness about the country’s problems while doing nothing to right them. Tsipras’s mistake was that he was way too eager to come to power, and did so without having done his homework or prepared his party for the inevitable compromises that were to come. Now he faces the wrath of the people who made him prime minister.
For the sake of the country, he needs to survive these winds of anger because afterward they will become a storm. In the meantime, we can hope that the next person with his or her eye on the top spot has learned their lesson and will not try to rise to power on the back of lies and exaggerations.