Amid scandals, an institution matures

The presidential election yesterday of Karolos Papoulias by a comfortable margin – and on the first ballot – came as a high point at an otherwise difficult time. While other prominent institutions like the judiciary and the Church are being shaken by burgeoning scandal allegations, the political system has behaved in a remarkably mature fashion. The consensual election yesterday of Papoulias, a longtime member of PASOK and former foreign minister, lends extra clout to the presidential office. Without doubt, the path to yesterday’s triumphant election was paved by the stance of Greece’s two main parties which, each for its own reasons, did not wish to see a snap general election. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to attribute the consensual mood surrounding the presidential election solely to the parties’ politically expedient objectives. The political class has grown more cautious and unwilling to put the country’s institutions on trial. The change has perhaps come as they have realized that the people are put off by political opportunism and partisan self-interest. Although the office of president does not possess executive powers, the role is not merely cosmetic. The president enjoys strong prestige and his words carry considerable weight. Much of this is owed to former president Costis Stephanopoulos’s two successful tenures. Papoulias is expected to emulate the public posture of his predecessor, solidifying the institution and the smooth functioning of our political system. Like his predecessor, Papoulias belongs to the rather limited category of unblemished politicians. Both are unquestionably honest and humble individuals in their everyday lives and modest in their political expressions. They both constitute fine role models at a time when society is confronted by the rise of lax morality, nouveau riche attitudes, and pompous talk. The popularity and the credibility of the president, himself a symbol of national unity, has a soothing effect on political tensions. Furthermore, the office stabilizes the political environment, allowing the government to carry out its tasks without outside guidance or pressure – as occurred back when the monarchy comprised an independent source of power.

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