Adroit handling

Without doubt, the outgoing week was politically charged. The strident attacks on the government following its poor handling of the Chinook helicopter tragedy came as a shock to the prime minister. Costas Karamanlis made a bumpy landing on the post-Olympic landscape that seemed to coincide with the end of his government’s period of grace. However, when the illegal student transfer scandal broke out immediately after the Games, Karamanlis showed sharp political reflexes. His decision to sack Agriculture Minister Savvas Tsitouridis, one of his close aides, signaled that «modesty and humility» were not merely an empty promise. It was not meant to send a message to the public so much as one to the bureaucratic pyramid of state officials. The impression that the government had indeed reacted to the wake-up call was reinforced by its swift response to the carnage on the Maliakos Gulf road. Even more telling, on a political level, was Karamanlis’s decision to launch an investigation into Greece’s purchase of two defense systems, after prosecutors submitted a legal brief to Parliament. The conservative premier is determined not to lose control of the situation and to take a number of initiatives that will enable him to set the agenda in the coming period, including both specific government action and general tactical maneuvers. His speech yesterday on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the New Democracy party is a clear sign of his intention to break with the past, even when that means dealing with intra-party protest. His statements yesterday clarified his intentions: «What we promised, we do not forget, we do not abandon, we do not bargain on. Let there be no illusions.» And he added: «We said we would abolish the laws that nourish conflicting interests. And we are abolishing them. We said we would implement an action plan against corruption. We are implementing it. We said that our foremost goal is to establish transparency. And this is what we are doing.» True, Karamanlis is left with no other option than to go forward. The battle over ideological hegemony will undoubtedly be decided by the government’s ability to produce work and implement radical changes where necessary. This is the only way to convince the public, and particularly those who voted the ND party into power, that it deserves to be trusted. Pandering to vested interests and maneuvering to avoid political cost would soon paralyze the government. If, by contrast, Karamanlis’s administration acts on the basis of set principles, should it brave opposition from vested interests, it will be in a position to energize social forces. Besides, it is the only way to sustain the political momentum secured by the landslide victories in the national and European elections.