Overwhelming consensus

The record279 votes cast for Karolos Papoulias was the most extraordinary feature about yesterday’s presidential election. To be sure, the prudent and modest Papoulias would be wary of attributing the high approval rate to the political leverage and popularity he gained as a PASOK cadre. Nor would he ever contrast the landslide approval of his candidacy to the tissue-thin majorities of Constantine Karamanlis in 1980 and 1990. Papoulias’s election was not just the result of consensus, as the constitution stipulates, but near-unanimous and a sign of unity. Unlike the previous candidates, the former foreign minister was proposed by the ruling party despite belonging to the opposition. (The only exception is Costis Stephanopoulos, who was picked by the Political Spring party as a consensus candidate and who received 181 votes from the now-defunct party and PASOK. Still, his re-election by both PASOK and ND was the result of his high popularity, following a very successful first term. So there are no parallels between the two.) Notwithstanding some political expediency in the premier’s choice, the spirit of unity displayed in yesterday’s election should be credited to the ruling party. It is a remarkable outcome given that Costas Karamanlis made the decision soon after receiving a strong public mandate. Moreover, it should be noted that ND had nothing to fear from an early election triggered by a deadlock in the presidential election. And for the record: If Papoulias goes down as the nomination based on the broadest consensus, the most divisive was certainly that of 1985, when PASOK backed Christos Sartzetakis not as a symbol of unity but, as the late Andreas Papandreou put it, as a choice that confirmed «the historic break with the Right» and which perpetuated «the dividing lines» between the two sides.