Blatant inadequacy

The televised contest Thursday evening left even PASOK’s more ardent supporters with a bitter taste in their mouths. Despite the rigid restrictions of the procedure that turned the highly anticipated debate into a succession of monologues, George Papandreou’s shortcomings became blatantly evident. PASOK’s new leader is not only lacking at the rhetoric level. In fact, his inability to deliver a cogent political message reflects that his views on crucial aspects of governance are still vague. That would be of minor significance if PASOK were a small party in the opposition. However, since PASOK is running for government, Papandreou’s inadequacy is of crucial importance. His gentle, modest demeanor renders him more widely acceptable and may, to some degree, broaden PASOK’s electorate, but it is not a real asset for a prime-ministerial candidate. We have no reason to question the sincerity of Papandreou’s reformist plans. However, it is clear by now that these plans are too abstract. They have not undergone the process that would make them a cohesive and realistic program. This is of fundamental significance in a country that is facing an accumulation of acute problems, a country where power lies mainly with the prime minister. PASOK has been worn down by being in power for too long. It has been undermined both morally and politically. In that sense, Papandreou has rightly made the radical restructuring of his party a top priority. A proper restructuring, however, takes place in the haven of the opposition, and not government seats. It is no coincidence that more and more people think that, notwithstanding his long ministerial career, Costas Simitis’s successor is not ready to take charge of the country. This view is also held by people who have faith in his intentions and who approve of his – otherwise controversial – postmodern views. Even those who are keen to find comfort in delusions and those who, because of his family name, had faith in the legend of the «savior prince» were persuaded otherwise by Thursday’s televised contest. The campaign arena is no place for diplomatic negotiations or bargaining. It has its own stern rules and demands. In order to adapt to this role, Papandreou must spend time in the opposition. From there, he can prepare himself for the more demanding role of prime minister. At this moment, it is not possible to assess the impact of the debate on the electoral balance of power. The early indications are that, even if it fell short of bringing New Democracy more votes, it consolidated the main opposition’s safe lead. And in that sense, it further undercut PASOK’s chances of turning things round. In fact, this is now only a theoretical scenario.