Crisis or stagnation?

PASOK MP Theodoros Tsoukatos has proved extremely capable of mobilizing the Cabinet’s widespread discontent, channeling it into political initiatives which, though not directly at odds with the government, definitely put it into a difficult position. In the past, it was Tsoukatos’s initiative for a state-guaranteed minimum income. This time round, it was the initiative of 45 deputies, who came up with a proposal on social security reform. The prime minister’s office at Maximos Mansion made no secret of its indignation. The leadership responded fiercely, portraying the move as an insurgency. It is far from certain, however, that its handling of the proposal eliminated dissent or was able to put a stop to navel-gazing. On the contrary, it seems to have brought about the opposite. The prime minister’s reaction inflated the significance of the deputies’ initiative and reinforced a negative impression. 2002, it seems, has not got off to a good start for Costas Simitis. He had hardly recovered from the political cost inflicted by the collapse of the mega-merger between the National Bank of Greece and Alpha Bank when Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Zafeiropoulos submitted his resignation. Barely had reactions subsided when Tsoukatos’s initiative came along. And all this is happening amid manifest discontent by socialist officials over the polarizing tactics utilized by party general secretary Costas Laliotis. The prime minister has backed him until now, but there are growing signs that Laliotis’s behavior is increasingly unpopular at Maximos Mansion. Simitis’s most vexing problem is that the reformist momentum has died out. There are only a few sectors where efforts are being made to provide solutions to chronic problems. Alekos Papadopoulos had long fought alone for the reform of the National Health System (ESY). It is an open secret that university doctors strongly refused to adapt to the new regime because they had been encouraged by the tolerance of certain government officials. It is only now, as things came to a head, that the government made its voice heard. The prime minister fears that its intra-party opponents are brewing up a storm. What Simitis is mostly threatened by, however, is not the outbreak of such a crisis but a slow sinking into political murk. So long as the government steadily drifts into laxness and the policy of minimum resistance, Simitis’s rhetoric will lose its grip on reality. The leaders of the four parties pledged their parliamentarians would support the proposed legislation. It was unclear whether the vote would take place at yesterday’s session.

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