Securing the center

After a tough autumn, the conservative government seems to have gained some ground mainly thanks to the prime minister’s decision to propose former Socialist minister Karolos Papoulias as New Democracy’s candidate for the presidential race. Costas Karamanlis’s decision settled an important issue in a way that is expected to benefit his party, while the fact that opposition leader George Papandreou also showed signs of relief at Papaoulias’s nomination has mostly to do with plans he has for his own party. Karamanlis’s attempt to gently break up PASOK and enhance his appeal to the middle ground are part of a bigger goal: that of consolidating the support of the disaffected center-left voters who in the last election turned to ND in a bid to sweep PASOK out of power. One of Karamanlis’s top priorities is to turn a circumstantial, 45.4 percent majority into a steady pool of support. His pledge to support the weak in society, his overture to the so-called social center and the emphasis on political morality all serve the same aim. A crucial difference in the coming year is that the conservatives will be held politically accountable for their actions. To be sure, the sins of the Simitis governments will still have an effect on public opinion; but the new government’s ability to use those problems as a shield against their own mistakes or omissions will gradually weaken.