Deeds and challenges

In his recent talk to the Cabinet, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis expressed satisfaction with his government’s performance so far. This is only natural for a sitting prime minister, although the final evaluation of a government ultimately rests with the electorate and not the politicians or spin-doctors. Ordinary people are rarely impressed because there is always much unfinished business to deal with. Despite persistent denials, the conservative government has reduced itself to a mundane administrative role on many issues. However, there is one in which New Democracy and their Socialist predecessors stand worlds apart: Cyprus. Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis relieved Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos of pressure to endorse the UN peace plan for the divided island and thus gave its people a chance to express themselves freely and denounce the plan. Molyviatis is one of the few political figures who did not panic in the face of international pressure on Athens, and who accurately predicted that a rejection of Kofi Annan’s blueprint would not produce any dramatic fallout. On the contrary, Molyviatis forecast that Cyprus’s membership in the European Union would strengthen its bargaining clout. This may have been the government’s most important and tangible accomplishment to date. All the other related issues, including Greek-Turkish bilateral ties and Athens’s expectations of a radical transformation in Ankara’s behavior should the latter get a date for EU talks in December, remain open; and deep reservations persist over whether optimistic scenarios will materialize. In domestic policy, Karamanlis has vowed to clean up the body politic. He set up a parliamentary committee to investigate military procurements; he intends to submit a bill to prevent media owners from holding stakes in construction companies with state contracts; and he likely will attempt to probe the stock market scandal. All these moves are immensely popular as well as morally and politically imperative. With Karamanlis in a powerful position and PASOK in disarray, it is up to the premier to carry out the public mandate and purge public life of conflicting interests and corruption. Any mistakes or poor handling will accelerate PASOK’s recovery, as happened with a prior conservative government, which managed only to revive Andreas Papandreou’s political fortunes.