Preparing for an election showdown

The official date of Greece’s early elections – September 16 – was announced last Thursday evening following a sad day that saw dozens of homes and hundreds of hectares of forestland ravaged on Mount Pendeli. The pretext for calling early elections, just six months before the government’s four-year term had been due to end, was a bid to avert negative repercussions on the Greek economy if the pre-election period were protracted any longer. Of course, very few Greek citizens had been convinced by the condemnatory rhetoric of the main opposition PASOK party which since the beginning of February has been trying to «save» Greece by calling for early elections. The same citizens have been unconvinced by the government’s initiative to safeguard the economy and push through reforms on the back of snap polls. The call for early elections can be interpreted as an expression of the perplexity of the political system. And, as ruling New Democracy is virtually certain to be re-elected, perhaps we should give all interested parties the chance to promote their comparative advantages until Greeks are ready to vote. Over the next month we shall see efforts by both main political parties to highlight the differences in their ideologies. This will amount to a personal clash between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and PASOK leader George Papandreou. For a country with unique social mobility and a love of all that is modern, we show a peculiar steadfastness. For the past half century, two political families – those of Karamanlis and Papandreou – have secured the support and trust of most Greek citizens. New Democracy’s honorary president, former Premier Constantine Mitsotakis, is still striving to root his family on the Greek political scene. Former PASOK Prime Minister Costas Simitis governed Greece for two consecutive four-year terms before disappearing, almost without a trace. Georgios Rallis managed only a short stint in power. But Costas Karamanlis and George Papandreou have one common feature. They are not self-made men. They did not win their place in politics through determination and character. They were born and bred to run Greece and this role has been acknowledged by the Greek people. This is a unique phenomenon in Europe and creates a sense of stability among a nervous people. It is against this background that the pre-election showdown – the first real clash between Karamanlis and Papandreou – is beginning. Some older citizens may deplore a lack of ideological differences, of creative confrontation. But this is not linked to any shortcomings of the two leaders. It is simply that circumstances have changed and sluggishness is the new distinguishing feature of political life.