As we enter the final stretch to the general election – however long this ends up being – the political rhetoric is becoming increasingly vitriolic, tension is rising and more mistakes are being made. This intensified polarization is making it harder to achieve even the minimum consensus and convergence needed in a country dealing with significant economic, foreign policy and security challenges.
Aggressive rhetoric from Turkey, in particular, should serve as a reminder of just how fragile the situation is between the two neighbors. Yet the protagonists of the domestic political system appear to care for nothing beyond their quest for power. Concepts like moderation and consensus appear to have no place in this volatile setting, for which both sides are to blame.
Politicians are doing and saying things that are embarrassing and an insult to the people. They are adopting extreme rhetoric that defies conventional political discourse. They are putting their parties’ agendas above whatever threats and dangers the country faces.
Regardless of whether the general election takes place in May, to coincide with those for the European Parliament, or in October, at the end of the government’s term, Greece is in for a long pre-election period as the two protagonists on the political scene, among many others, are already crossing the line.
We have seen this in the form of rhetorical hyperbole, but also in decisions made and actions taken. The prime minister’s decision to address a gathering in Thessaloniki last Friday at the same time as New Democracy was launching its national convention in Athens was a mistake. The endangered notion of political civility, but also precedent, not only in Greece, dictates that one party respects the other during major events. By the way, it would be useful if everyone also acknowledged that other parties are one’s political rivals, not enemies.
Then, during Tuesday’s budget debate in Parliament, the public witnessed an unfortunate incident when the head of the main opposition “advised” members of ruling SYRIZA to leave the chamber if they didn’t like what they were hearing. He went on to attack the speaker, saying that if he couldn’t bring the House to order, he would do so.
And of course there is no point in mentioning the frequent insults made publicly by Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis, which will probably only get worse and even more personal the closer we get to the polls.
In this worsening climate, the voices of decency and moderation – which do indeed exist in both parties, but also across most of the political spectrum – are being drowned out by the louder voices of vulgarity and personal attacks. Given the circumstances, this is not only sad, but also exceptionally dangerous for the country.