Papandreou and the middle ground

In every modern democracy parties win elections by wooing the middle ground. Those who stray too far to the left or right, either because of personal beliefs or as a matter of strategy, inevitably lose. PASOK, the present main opposition party that ruled the country for so many years, is now being put to the test daily in light of a possible return to power. The people expect to hear viable solutions to the country’s problems. PASOK party chief George Papandreou should not back down from his positions and become embroiled in a duel with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). When he votes against the revision of Article 16, he is being inconsistent because everyone knows he is in favor of private educational institutions. Education Minister Evripidis Stylianidis, a young and serious politician, is right in his argument that non-state, non-profit universities will help boost state universities, nurture sharper minds in Greece and among Greeks abroad, and attract investment. He was also right in reminding the public that both Papandreou and Evangelos Venizelos – who challenged Papandreou’s presidency in party elections – have expressed their support for private universities in the recent past. There have, however, been a few rays of hope these past few days. During the tanker truck owners’ strike, Papandreou appeared to understand the essence of his mission, which is not about constantly reacting to and disagreeing with government plans, but making a constructive contribution to the smoother functioning of the political system. He leveled criticism against the government, but also called on the strikers to do the responsible thing – to call off their action and thus limit the damage to the economy and society as a whole. He showed the same maturity a few months ago on the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), by helping to form a united national front on the issue. Public opinion polls showed that his stance earned him points. Not attacking the government constantly is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it shows the readiness of a party to lead the country and to test itself with the crucial middle ground. Papandreou has had a long career in Greek politics and the Greek people have good memories. They haven’t forgotten his position on private education, on closer Greek-Turkish ties and on a compromise solution to the Macedonia name dispute. Therefore, instead of stepping back from positions he has clearly stated in the past, Papandreou has every reason to stick to them, even if they cost him in the short term, because consistency is above all what one looks for in a leader.