A focus on people

The parliamentary debate of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s New Democracy government policy declaration over the weekend was of special political interest. We are not referring to the policies per se, which were in any case announced by a government with a political and ideological platform distinct from its Socialist predecessor, but to the broader changes that loom over the domestic political landscape in the wake of the national election earlier this month. Karamanlis’s policy declaration conveys a strongly populist air, in the sense that it focuses on problems that beset wide sections of the population (tax relief, the issue of limited-term contract civil servants, compound interest rates, and so on). This is a radically different mentality from that of Costas Simitis’s Socialist administration, whose purported emphasis on big issues and high politics allowed a plethora of problems to turn into yawning social issues. The new conservative government has, of course, nothing tangible to show as yet but its approach so far shows a strong concern for the people. At the same time, its people-friendly manner serves the long-term goal of expanding the government’s social alliances. Should this aim become reality, it will consolidate and enlarge the ruling party’s influence beyond its traditional electoral base. If Karamanlis succeeds in carrying out this policy constantly and consistently, he will eventually build a party which will incorporate new elements, enabling it to attract people with different ideological backgrounds and, at the same time, rejuvenate and modernize its ties with grassroots supporters. With a similar mentality, adapted to the mood of the 1980s, the late prime minister and PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou enabled the Socialists to dominate the domestic political arena for nearly a quarter of a century. This is a huge challenge for Karamanlis but he has many chances of pulling it off. The blatant failure of opposition leader George Papandreou to hit back in a convincing manner indicates that PASOK will be no major obstacle to Karamanlis’s effort to score a strategic victory for his party. As the weekend parliamentary debate indicated, under Papandreou’s leadership, PASOK is so feeble that its leading role in the opposition could be questioned by the smaller Communist and Synaspismos Left Coalition parties. Although PASOK represents nearly half the Greek population, its defeat has brought it to a standstill and the party seems unable to express the needs and visions of the people in the early 21st century.

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