Unfulfilled pledge

Conservative leader Costas Karamanlis was elected as prime minister on his promise to restructure the state. Before that, however, he should try to restructure his dysfunctional government. It matters little whether certain business interests work to undermine Karamanlis and his government. Troubling as it may be, this was to be expected. It also matters little that Costas Simitis’s eight-year tenure bequeathed a state in disarray and mammoth deficits. PASOK’s sorry performance was no secret, and so the public punished the Socialists by voting them out of power in the March 2004 election. Had everything gone smoothly, had the wealth of the country and its people not been squandered for the benefit of a small group close to the Socialist government, and had corruption not reached unnerving proportions, then Simitis would never have passed the PASOK party mantle to George Papandreou and he would have gone on to win another four-year term. But that is history and cannot alone reinforce a government’s image or keep it in power. Karamanlis built his government by placing people of different ideological persuasions in different posts. He hoped that the ensuing and well-meaning competition among them would act as a creative stimulus. But in the end, things did not work out as hoped. There is nothing unusual about rivalries or antagonisms in a ministry or cabinet. The prime minister is responsible for blending the various tendencies; and that requires constant effort and determination to deal with the unexpected problems that distract a premier’s attention from the daily agenda. For better or worse, Greece’s political system is not truly representative, for deputies are expected to obey the party and especially its leader. The system is centered primarily around party leaders and, in the case of the ruling party, around the prime minister. Consequently, in the eyes of the average Greek citizen political responsibility lies with him. The premier cannot escape a crisis unscathed by blaming his ministers, for he has the right to remove them without further explanations. But there is more. Contrary to all previous prime ministers, Karamanlis from the very beginning distanced himself from the grassroots of the conservative party in a bid to expand New Democracy’s catchment. His move cost him a vital pool of supporters. Karamanlis embodies the hopes of a big party that belongs neither to the so-called middle ground nor admires Eleftherios Venizelos, whom Karamanlis in a recent address in Crete described as the greatest statesman in Greek history. The conservative party has its own leaders and victims who command respect. Ideological novelties rarely sway new voters. More often, they alienate traditional votes from their leadership. Thirteen months after the national elections, the government needs to make a fresh start, and neither Karamanlis nor his ministers can afford to fail. A PASOK comeback would have devastating consequences.

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