Chief protagonist

Now that the curtain is about to fall, even Costas Karamanlis’s foes admit that he is the chief protagonist of this election. This view is not only grounded in predictions that New Democracy will return to office. It is also based on the opposition leader’s political activity in the previous months, during which he alone shouldered the burden of the electoral campaign. Most importantly, his modest and socially sensitive political language allowed him to refashion the conservative party image. ND is no longer a traditional right-wing party. Having distanced itself from the neoliberal platform of former premier Constantine Mitsotakis, the party, under the Karamanlis’s leadership, has accomplished an interesting ideological fusion. The neoliberal rhetoric has been infused with sensitivity for the woes of the middle- and lower-income classes. ND no longer belongs to the «popular right» that brought together statist and aristocratic elements, coupled with a paternalistic attitude toward the weaker social strata through patronage relations. Notwithstanding the limitations of conventional political geography, ND is a modern version of a center-right party. The path Karamanlis had to tread was not an easy one. He inherited the mantle of ND at a relatively young age and with limited political experience. No doubt his family name played a fundamental role in his being elected but his political virtues were soon revealed. Although he made some tactical errors, he finally managed to reach his strategic goal. Barring a few jarring notes, coming from people who have been overcome by the party’s transformation, ND’s message is now clear, modern and attractive. Karamanlis’s political discourse did away with most of the anti-right prejudice among public opinion, he broadened the party’s reach and made it easier for disaffected center-left voters to approach ND. A second crucial element in Karamanlis’s political persona is his attack on intertwined interests. His decision to open up a front against political and business entanglement triggered a series of personal attacks. For years, the overwhelming majority of the media had systematically been cultivating the impression that Karamanlis is ND’s main handicap, contrary to Costas Simitis’s portrayal as PASOK’s major asset. Despite their desperate efforts, the prospect of a landslide defeat forced the outgoing prime minister and the vested interests that backed him to orchestrate his succession – a last-ditch effort to avert defeat. PASOK’s most important card was shelved whereas the much-criticized Karamanlis is one step away from becoming premier. That said, his biggest test will come after he takes over the helm of the country.

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