Opposition toughens criticism

ASOK President George Papandreou has recently adopted a more confrontational posture. Papandreou’s switch is driven by the instinct of political self-preservation. But, at the same time, it is a sign that voter tolerance toward the conservative administration is shrinking. As a result, the public is becoming more receptive to rhetorical skirmishes between Greece’s mainstream parties. For quite some time, Papandreou’s attentions were limited to shaking up faces and mentalities within his own socialist party. It was a navel-gazing phase – typical of politicians who take over the reigns of a party and find themselves facing a heavy legacy from the past. However, too much navel-gazing is of no avail. Papandreou has come to realize that only a well-coordinated offensive targeted at Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his government can put the lid on inner-party squabbles and rally the socialist cadres around their leader. Nevertheless, the importance of the above would be negligible were it not for the bad news over the economy and other pressing issues. The voters have acknowledged that the economic mess is the legacy of Costas Simitis’s governments. That said, people have long ceased to give credence to politicians’ upbeat predictions. The delusion of the stock market boom at the close of the 1990s and the exuberance cultivated by the Simitis administration after Greece became a eurozone member are history. In fact, the atmosphere has changed for the worse, as the false prosperity fanned by trouble-free bank loans and the unchecked use of credit cards has been succeeded by the stress of paying off debt installments. The introduction of the euro found the country unprepared economically, and the people psychologically. The PASOK governments advertised the hope of endless prosperity – not without certain success. But the illusion was short-lived and the conservative administration is now called upon to tackle the post-fallacy mess. Restrictions set by the European Commission don’t make things any easier for consumers, while the government’s economy planners have little room for independent maneuvers. Old tricks, such as printing more money or currency devaluation, are no more. Greece’s entry into the eurozone exposed the structural weaknesses of the national economy as well as the failure by the country’s business class and the unions to brace themselves for the changes. The reforms mandated by Ecofin have so far worked at the expense of the lower-income classes. But they have not affected the power of these classes to vote governments in or out of power. Many people ask what is the purpose of Papandreou’s all-out attack against government policies? The answer of course is to bring PASOK back to power. While things may change in the economy and society, the rules of the political game don’t. Not just in Greece but in every country ruled under a representative democracy. None of the mainstream parties nor the majority of the media question the guiding lines of Greece’s economic policy but the opposition naturally tries to exploit public discontent. Economic planning may be long-term. But human lives are short and everyone hopes that their lives will get better. Or they take revenge in the ballot box. No government can square the circle – in this case, produce wealth that must come only from the private sector and distribute it across society. But it’s the job of the opposition to create hope – and this is exactly what Papandreou is doing at present. To the government’s embarrassment, Papandreou’s rhetoric is landing on more and more sympathetic ears among the electorate.