A pragmatic decision

In politics, what people say is often not only far from sincere but directly opposed to what they really think. That is what has been happening at present since the prime minister’s decision to propose Socialist former Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias as the New Democracy party candidate in the March presidential elections. Costas Karamanlis’s decision was a relief for PASOK leader George Papandreou, as it warded off the prospect of early elections and thereby the specter of a fresh defeat for the opposition Socialists (a third poor electoral showing would most likely also be the coup de grace for Papandreou). In addition, the nomination of Papoulias will give the PASOK chairman more time to sort out his party. That explains Papandreou’s decision to postpone, for the third or fourth time, what was set to have been a painful party congress. This is precisely why Karamanlis’s decision disappointed Papandreou’s rivals within his own party and spread concern throughout PASOK’s ranks. It is indicative of the climate within PASOK that its MP Maria Damanaki, who had earlier given voice to the skepticism of the Socialist cadres, was forced to retract her original statements… In theory, the choice of Papoulias was made in accordance with the Constitution, which mandates that the president must enjoy the greatest possible public and political consensus. But from a realist’s perspective, the nomination of Papoulias above all confirmed Karamanlis’s strategic aim of capturing the middle ground and shoving PASOK to the fringes of the left-right spectrum. The premier expects New Democracy to lose some of its right-wing supporters but believes that, at the same time, the share of voters wooed from the ranks of PASOK will be bigger and steadier. At the same time, should the nationalist LAOS party, led by Giorgos Karatzaferis, manage to increase its strength and enter Parliament, the credibility and the appeal of Karamanlis’s overtures to the traditional pool of PASOK supporters will grow. (It was his success in penetrating the center-right that gave former Socialist leader Costas Simitis two consecutive election victories, despite a few leaks to the populist leftist DHKKI party, which received 4.43 and 2.69 percent of the vote in 1996 and 2000 respectively). By proposing Papoulias for president, the prime minister also gave Papandreou more time to establish his authority within the Socialist party. This sort of favor is actually a sign of Karamanlis’s preference for Papandreou as his main political opponent. That does little to flatter Papandreou or to enhance the confidence of PASOK officials in their leader’s potential. Similarly, it could be said that the conservative premier thinks that instead of giving the Socialists a chance to put an end to their lingering disarray via early elections, he would rather see the continuation of the state of confusion and uncertainty that has hit the once-mighty PASOK.