1981 reversed

Compared to the overall pattern of the European Parliament election results, Greece is a double exception. One is that the election turnout in this country, although lower than in the previous poll, hovered about 20 percentage points above the EU average – a fact that confers extra political weight on the outcome. The second difference is that, whereas in the overwhelming majority of member states the electorate cast a protest vote against their governments, in Greece the margin between the two main parties doubled in comparison to the March 7 national elections. For Greece’s ruling party, the significance of a second election victory in three months was qualitative rather than quantitative. If the March election was a punishment of the Socialists, this time we had a positive, clear vote for New Democracy. PASOK trailed New Democracy by seven points despite the absence of the socialist splinter DIKKI party and the presence of the ultra-nationalist LAOS. The political situation is a reversal of 1981 – producing a center-right ideological hegemony. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his government have every reason to feel unrestrained, as they see no threat coming from the 2005 presidential election. This should encourage them to push through the big and much-needed reforms without delays and political cost calculations. Hopes of a «short conservative interval» have been shattered and PASOK has been thrown into a strategic crisis – and now deeper, as George Papandreou’s leadership is being challenged. Papandreou’s main problem is not that he suffered two consecutive defeats, but that he has failed to offer convincing political rhetoric and to decipher the messages coming from his party base. A period of serious internal party squabbling now looms unavoidable as PASOK’s leader since January will find it increasingly hard to find refuge in the million votes he received in the one-candidate race. In fact the million votes PASOK lost since the March 7 polls should outweigh that. The ambiguity of Synaspismos Left Coalition toward PASOK proved to be an act of political suicide, helping the Communist Party (KKE) whose explicit political message gave it top-dog status among the left-wing parties. The rise of the extremist and xenophobic LAOS party casts a gray shadow, even though worries about an extreme right on the march are exaggerated. The key to reducing such largely opportunistic movements to the level of short-lived protest parties is the successful tackling of social and national problems by the political figures now in power.