Untimely issue

Shortly before the elections for the European Parliament last week, and amid fervent preparations for the summer Olympic Games in Athens, the media have catapulted the question of the March presidential elections to center stage. It was premature and untimely to raise the issue, considering that the vote is still nine months away and the number of issues that the new conservative government and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis still have to tackle. In a wrong-headed decision, the recent revision of the constitution did not remove the enhanced majority voting system used in the election of the President of the Republic by the Parliament, notwithstanding the fact that presidential powers were curtailed. The government of any given time is thereby held hostage and encouraged to arrive at a commonly accepted candidate. This time-consuming procedure forces ideological compromises in order to serve the party interest. It leads to political bargaining for an office which is supposed to stand above partisan divisions. Media reports have said that Nikos Constandopoulos, the chairman of Synaspismos Left Coalition who recently announced his decision to step down in his party’s coming convention, is a potential candidate for the post. Conservative New Democracy is said to back Constandopoulos should he run for head of state. General Secretary of the Communist Party Aleka Papariga flatly rejected green-lighting a left-wing candidacy – even a communist one – saying that the presidency is not cosmetic and that a left-wing president could not be compelled to sign decrees that violate his or her most fundamental principles. No one knows what Karamanlis’s decision over a potential Constandopoulos candidacy will be, though ND has no particular reason not to back a leftist candidate, as the conservatives legalized the Communist Party in 1974 and even invited it into a coalition in the late 1980s. The head of state cannot be elected without the consent of Socialist PASOK Chairman George Papandreou – a politician who is so radical and unpredictable as to create embarrassment among the cadres of his own party. Karamanlis is in no hurry nor is he being held to ransom. And he is the only political leader who has nothing to fear about the prospect of a fresh electoral battle in March.