A lack of trust

In a period of political decline or crisis, it is natural for elements outside the normal democratic process to seize the initiative. In the past, military coups did the trick; today the media set the political agenda almost effortlessly, but with destructive results. Deputy Public Order Minister Christos Markoyiannakis was forced to resign last week after making highly derogatory comments about Supreme Court prosecutor Dimitris Linos in the company of local politicians and a journalist, who later exposed him. Evidently, the codes of conduct that once held the system together are crumbling, while denunciations and revelations are the order of the day. This may amuse television viewers, but it should not be a reason for citizens to be either mad or sad. No one seems willing to challenge these ongoing changes, while the political system appears to have all but accepted its status as the media’s hostage. This phenomenon is neither unique nor isolated, with many government policies of the past having been influenced by the media or by extra-institutional elements. But in the past this procedure involved only a few individuals who were acting in the name of the national interest or the public at large. But Greece is increasingly deteriorating into a «TV democracy,» where the chief protagonist is private television and the target is the viewer, who has become impervious to surprise and uses whatever is heard on TV as a source of material for debates with friends. For months, rumors swirled of a government reshuffle that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was ostensibly preparing. In reality, three major changes – the dismissal of Agriculture Minister Savvas Tsitouridis, of Deputy Economy Minister Adam Regouzas and, now, of Deputy Public Order Minister Christos Markoyiannakis – happened due to the intervention of the media and not because the PM deemed them necessary. It is not only journalists and TV channels that are to blame for this phenomenon; more widely, the culprit is the gradual decay of this country’s political life. If any clear conclusion can be drawn from all this, it is that the system is ailing, and effective government is becoming increasingly difficult if not downright impossible. Such stances are sometimes regarded as undermining the existing system and giving rise to claims of conspiracy theories designed to serve all manner of illicit interests. But just a few days ago, a poll conducted by VPRC and Skai Radio that was published in Kathimerini showed that 38 percent of respondents believed that neither ruling New Democracy nor opposition PASOK are capable of solving the country’s problems. In short, it showed that many Greeks do not trust the country’s two main political parties. If Greece had not been languishing as a second-rate country for decades then this citizen dissatisfaction with its two main political parties would constitute grounds for real concern. It still matters, at least somewhat, whether a party is ahead of its main rival or not and whether a premier has a significant lead over his rival. However, if citizens continue to be dissatisfied with both main parties, this will eventually lead to chaos and anarchy. The two-party system has its disadvantages, of course; but when one considers that a single-party government and a prime minister – who has been given almost dictatorial powers by the constitution – cannot govern effectively, it is difficult to imagine what the situation would be like under a coalition government. The key issue now facing Greece is the restoration of citizens’ trust in political parties. If this proves impossible, politics will be hijacked completely by the media and by whoever dares to try and fill the political void.

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