Political rhetoric

Almost from the outset of his time as prime minister, Costas Simitis has used rhetoric concerning the opposition party that reflects a peculiar reversal of roles on the political scene. PASOK, of course, is still in power. But it is the one which has actually indulged in criticism of the New Democracy opposition. And this is at a time when it is indirectly questioning ND’s inalienable right to control its own actions. As an opposition party, ND criticism of the government has not always been faultless. Looking back at previous years, one could charge ND with many ill-advised initiatives and erroneous interventions. But it would be blatantly unfair to accuse it of having blindly criticized the government or of having excessively raised the confrontational tone. In some cases it has uttered such hyperbole, but an overall evaluation would most likely lead to the opposite conclusion, namely that ND’s criticism as an opposition party has been rather restrained. The fact that, despite the above, the opposition has often been criticized by the media should be attributed to the latter’s preferential treatment toward the current prime minister. The government’s sense of immunity caused by this preferential treatment has played a decisive role in nourishing arrogance and an establishment mentality amid the ruling officials. A closer analysis of Simitis’s rhetoric reveals that he has not stopped at making harsher criticisms of ND. Neither has he refrained from using the past in order to remind us of ND’s past sins. Simitis actually goes further than that. He questions the ability of the opposition to govern the country, and thereby puts forward his government as being the only legitimate option for holding power. This was essentially the message that he conveyed yesterday when addressing PASOK’s Central Committee. This message, however, exceeds the legitimate limits of party confrontation. Change of power is a fundamental democratic principle and a security valve preventing the governments of the time from morphing into establishments. The prime minister, of course, has every right to consider himself and his aides as the most capable of dealing with state affairs. It is unethical, however, to lapse into rhetoric that is reminiscent of an establishment mentality that essentially treats ND not as the vehicle of an alternative policy but as a party whose rise to power will have disastrous repercussions for the country.