OPINION

Discomfiture

“Discomfiture» became a vogue term in our political vocabulary when Socialist leader George Papandreou used it to criticize the stance of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis during the Buergenstock talks on Cyprus. However, the word seems better suited to PASOK. There is, after all, an objective reason for this. Any party that loses its grip on power in a landslide defeat naturally finds itself in a very difficult position. In the early months, there is little room for opposition, if any at all. First, because public disillusionment with the shortcomings and the errors of the outgoing administration still persists and second, because Karamanlis’s administration, like every newly installed government, enjoys a period of grace. All this is part and parcel of a change in government. In this case, however, PASOK is faced with a deep-seated crisis. The defeat on May 7 put an end to a long term in government which coincided with the consolidation of an establishment mentality. The dynamic movement of the late Socialist Premier Andreas Papandreou, which managed to represent the middle- and lower-income classes and win power shortly after its birth, was gradually transformed into a party of functionaries. Growing entanglement with big business interests and influential media gave rise to a new status quo, whose main characteristics were the abrogation of moral and political values and a nouveau riche type of behavior. The establishment mentality was so firmly rooted that two months after the heavy electoral defeat, some of the former government officials are still having trouble adapting to the new realities. PASOK cadres still behave in an arrogant fashion and dream of a swift return to the helm of the country. The public demeanor of PASOK officials is reminiscent of the conservatives’ following New Democracy’s landmark defeat in 1981. A productive government and a strong opposition are both basic conditions for the smooth functioning of democratic institutions. Unfortunately, developments underscore that PASOK has entered a period of ideological and political crisis which is expected to be long and painful. Papandreou has failed to live up to the big expectations engendered by his election as Socialist party chairman. Even those who enthusiastically took part in his election now feel they have been let down by PASOK’s chairman. The problem cannot be reduced to a question of leadership alone. PASOK’s cadres no longer function as politicians. Rather, they display a civil servant mentality – which put the brakes on attempts to overhaul the party and resurrect its political identity. PASOK officials let off steam by heaping sarcasm on the new leader and making predictions about the imminent blunders of the Karamanlis administration.