Getting back to work

The dramatic sight of the wreck of the Sea Diamond cruise ship off the Aegean island of Santorini naturally diverted media attention from domestic political matters. But attention will soon be refocused on the political skirmishing between Greece’s two mainstream parties, New Democracy and PASOK. Even if conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis chooses to call elections at the end of New Democracy’s four-year tenure, the countdown for Greece’s next general election has already started and voters will flock back to polling stations in less than a year from today. PASOK socialists are expected to campaign on the back of the pension funds scandal. In any case, the opposition party of George Papandreou seems to have no other option: New Democracy’s comfortable lead in opinion polls, attacks on the socialist leader from within his own party, and the blurred dividing lines between the two main parties are pushing PASOK in that direction. As a result, it’s up to the government to take the necessary steps to prevent the catastrophic wave of scandalmongering from hijacking the public debate in the runup to the elections. Most certainly, the exact steps to be taken must be decided by the prime minister. After all, Karamanlis has the public mandate and responsibility for forming the government. But some steps would appear to be self-evident. First, there must be a reassessment of staff in key public sector posts. The pension funds gaffe clearly showed that personnel decisions to date have been far from perfect. Second, the conservative administration must bolster the existing institutional framework against future instances of corruption and cronyism. Above all, government officials must start working again. Regrettably, Greece’s political life has been largely hijacked by in-party bickering, personal attacks and denigrating innuendos, with one eye firmly fixed on the upcoming electoral contest. It would be equally harmful if the sour political mood created by the recent scandal undermined the productivity of the various government ministries. New Democracy received a strong mandate to implement a very specific set of policies. It was a four-year mandate. The premier must ensure that his ministers continue to bear this in mind.

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