Useful or pleasant?

When a government is halfway through its four-year tenure, its popularity rate tends to hit bottom. By that time, most governments have already launched most of the painful, if necessary, measures intended to yield fruit by the end of their term. But is the evaporation of New Democracy’s 5 percent lead, as recent polls show, a sign that the conservatives have indeed crossed the Rubicon? Has the government really pushed through the most unpopular part of its program, and is only waiting to reap the rewards? The question is primarily rhetorical, as everyone knows that in politics the outcome rarely fulfills expectations. This is all the more unlikely when the new government realizes the legacy of its predecessor – to which its own program has been adapted – is bogus. In any case, regardless of the problems caused by PASOK’s sad legacy, the dilemma remains for Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis: He can either set the government on a pre-election course and put difficult and painful reforms on the back burner, or he can overlook the inevitable political cost and go on with ND’s program. We will soon find out what Karamanlis has in mind. The main difference between the two scenarios is the timing of the next elections. Bringing the vote forward would confirm that Karamanlis has sought to renew his popular mandate, drawing most of his strength from opposition leader George Papandreou’s failings rather than ND’s successes, a legitimate and familiar political tactic. A decision to go to elections at the end of the four-year term, angling for election victory based on recognition of ND’s performance and not on a surprise attack on the enemy, would be an exception. Greek voters are mature enough to reward political consistency: to reward the useful if not the pleasant politician, as the late Constantine Karamanlis would say.