Unbridled populism

Facing the prospect of inescapable defeat, more so after George Papandreou’s sorry performance in last week’s televised debate, PASOK’s new leader is seeking a lifeline in unbridled populism. Unable to overcome the consequences of his nationwide appearance, Papandreou is resorting to last-minute handouts, hoping to sway back disaffected voters. Yesterday, under the burden of his personal shortcomings and his failure to even sketch the outlines of a coherent social policy, the Socialist candidate engaged in an overbidding exercise, announcing that he will expand the EKAS pension supplement (originally introduced for those in receipt of a minimum pension payment) to also include rural pensioners (OGA). Papandreou also pledged that, benefits included, the monthly income will go up to 800 euros for a married rural-pensioner couple. Papandreou’s promises were made without any cost analysis and without any assessment of the strain that such a move will put on the fiscal economy. No one would object to such a measure could society and the economy actually afford to sustain higher pension payments, not only to OGA pensioners but to other low-income groups as well. However, funds are scarce and the national economy is functioning in a context of over-indebtedness. Is Papandreou not aware that the General Accounts Office has yet to close the books for 2003? Is he not aware that the country will, after the elections, come under intense pressure from Brussels to hammer its fiscal economy into shape? And does Costas Simitis really approve of Papandreou’s overbidding in the runup to the polls? Does the outgoing prime minister accept Greece’s recent plunge into a greedy and harmful electoral campaign, something he has repeatedly denounced in the past? Papandreou is, no doubt, committing a major blunder – moreover, it is a double one: because citizens have already made up their minds and they will not be influenced by last-minute promises and, second, because he is cultivating excessive expectations, distorting the picture of the economy and thus making things harder for the next administration. This is, no doubt, a damaging tactic that should not go unnoticed and definitely should not be excused with the typical pretext that in electoral campaigns people say or promise more than they ought to. Papandreou is responsible for his words and actions. He cannot now behave as an irresponsible leader or sacrifice everything in the name of his electoral objectives. We are not going through a time of overkill. This has been and gone, and the people have already paid a heavy price for it.

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