Rising star puts wind up PASOK

The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) has a new leader and the main opposition socialist PASOK party another headache. Alexis Tsipras, who took over the helm of SYRIZA earlier this, week has not yet displayed any leadership skills, but nor is he tainted by political sins of the past – a fact that is of great importance at the present, when the reputations of the country’s two main parties are being sorely tested. The change of guard at the party’s headquarters on Koumoundourou Street is also significant, because former party chief Alekos Alavanos making way for the younger man is almost unprecedented in Greece, where we are accustomed to politicians clinging onto their seats at any cost. Caught with its political pants down, PASOK is trying to stem the number of defections to SYRIZA by hurling barbs at Tsipras, the most provocative of which were recent statements by MP Theodoros Pangalos. It appears that the former foreign minister has not learned from his mistakes – in 1994 he called the then relatively unknown Dimitris Avramopoulos «Mr Nobody» and unwittingly helped him become mayor of Athens. The crisis within PASOK is nothing to do with Tsipras. In fact, the opposite is true. The structural crisis of the two-party system is the reason why SYRIZA is gathering momentum and why its new president is gaining popularity. A large portion of the electorate believes that New Democracy is incapable of running the country properly and that PASOK is not a reliable alternative. This double disappointment manifests itself as a crisis of trust in the political system as a whole. The void between the two parties is thus being filled mainly by SYRIZA, the Communist Party (KKE) and the right-wing nationalist LAOS party. However, the void is being filled electorally rather than politically, as these parties serve more to draw the votes of those wishing to express their discontent with the two main parties. SYRIZA knows that the crisis in PASOK is a prime opportunity to win over PASOK voters and the rivalry between the two is growing daily; hence the barbs. It is doubtful, however, whether the party will be able to convince the electorate of its political platform without formulating and presenting specific policy targets. For the time being at least, this does not appear to be where its interests lie and this means that the rise in its popularity will depend on the conjuncture.