The recent devastating forest fires have no doubt harmed the government’s popularity. And the blunders of certain officials, particularly in the Mount Parnitha blaze, have done little to help. Naturally, PASOK is capitalizing on the conservatives’ decline, particularly as we are in a pre-election period. However, to claim that the latest wave of forest fires was orchestrated by PASOK, as Deputy Labor Minister Gerasimos Yiakoumatos implied, is nothing short of slander. PASOK’s fierce reaction forced Yiakoumatos to retract his remarks. Had this been an isolated slip of the tongue, it would have been of little significance. After all, Yiakoumatos’s colorful language has made him a popular guest on news programs. At a political level, the problem is that prior to Yiakoumatos’s controversial remarks, conservative spin doctors were also suggesting that the fires could have been politically motivated. They knew, of course, that such an allegation was too serious to be leveled directly at PASOK. But they did nurture rumors that the fires were part of a plan to destabilize the government. In fact, Yiakoumatos merely openly voiced what many conservative cadres had been thinking. The whole thing is reminiscent of past allegations that November 17 was controlled by PASOK members. It sounds ludicrous now, but two decades ago many in New Democracy were actually convinced that this was the case. Having failed to tackle the disastrous wave of forest fires, the government is reacting in a spasmodic fashion that endangers the country’s political culture. Paradoxically, ND has slammed George Papandreou’s polarizing tactics. Costas Karamanlis does not have the excuse of fearing an imminent fall from power. Despite his mistakes so far, opinion polls still show he is the clear favorite to win the next election.