Turning to the grassroots

One of Costas Karamanlis’s top priorities after he became prime minister last year was to dispel fears of a right-wing backlash. For that reason, the conservative leader came up with the preposterous «middle-ground» doctrine, called for a divorce between the state and the party and proposed Socialist former foreign minister Karolos Papoulias as New Democracy’s presidential candidate. The approach was the brainchild of a group of Karamanlis’s close aides, and was proposed as part of a broader strategy aiming to paralyze the opposition PASOK party – still suffering from a landslide defeat in last March’s election. However, New Democracy’s maneuvers ended up in creating a sense of insecurity among the core of the conservative faction who feel alienated – albeit this time from within. The grassroots supporters of any party tend to turn their backs on the managerial approach to power. Because they are propelled by ideological motives, they tend to have a more radical outlook on policymaking. Hence the argument that voters are exclusively motivated by economic expediency is, for the most part, untenable. Those with a mostly business-minded approach to life went on to ally themselves with the successive Socialist administrations and many of them managed to become influential economic players. It is also apparent that the many years spent outside government have led to extreme behavior, social clumsiness and alienation from European affairs among New Democracy’s hard core and its unionist elements. When the late Socialist prime minister and founder of the PASOK party, Andreas Papandreou, rode to power back in 1981, he was flanked by an elite, but the main bulk of his party was made up of individuals who lacked a substantial grasp of governance. These people created numerous problems and overturned principles that had for decades glued Greek society together. They now make up – at least in terms of wealth and European experience – Greece’s so-called bourgeois class. The selection of quality party cadres constitutes a duty for every party leader and the current conservative leadership is no exception. Without doubt, every government has an obligation to make the best use of existing manpower. Karamanlis is certainly trying, but he is also hindered by the fact that, in a small country like Greece, his options are limited. Karamanlis should restore a functional relationship and unity between New Democracy’s active hard core and the government, otherwise he should brace his administration for opposition from the right – which is also his party’s strongest pool of support. The claim that Karamanlis was elected by people who were not traditionally supporters of his conservative party and that he should therefore ignore the representatives of his party base is unfounded. If New Democracy manages to woo PASOK’s voters in the next elections, it will neither be thanks to Papoulias’s nomination nor to the emergence of the conservatives as a party of the political center. A section of conservative voters will migrate toward the right of the political spectrum and the consequences of such a trend will be disastrous not only for New Democracy but for the political system as a whole. The only hope lies in sheltering traditional ND voters under the administration in a way that will not cause disruptions but rather render them an active lever of government policy.

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