Invisible lines

Acrimonious would be the best word to describe the three-day parliamentary debate leading up to the confidence vote. Deputies and ministers, more so than party leaders, went beyond trading barbs and accusations and instead vented angrily against the prime minister and opposition leader. This observation is not prompted by nostalgia for some idealized past. After all, the post-1974 era has seen no shortage of bitter wrangling in Parliament. But nasty spats were usually spurred by genuine political and ideological divisions. Crucial decisions about the country’s future were at stake. That was then. In the latest debate, the ideological chasm that could have triggered the rift was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps that also explains why the viewing public was as apathetic as the warring parties were passionate. Without doubt, the gulf between political posturing and public reaction to it has intensified. Political encounters must stimulate public interest, emotion and participation. But such a dialectical relationship requires a politically charged debate and not airy-fairy speeches. To be sure, most criticism should be targeted at the Socialist opposition. PASOK’s reaction to the government’s reform campaign has been neither thoughtful nor consistent. Also, it’s the opposition who should set the pace of political confrontation. PASOK would be wrong to polarize the political climate in order to make up for its own lack of political clarity. That will do little to polish its image. Instead, this strategy will allow the government to score some easy and insubstantial victories. The prime minister did not provoke the confidence vote in order to renew the conservative’s popular mandate. Instead, he wanted to underscore the opposition’s lingering credibility problem.

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