Braving the long road

Blinded by the conviction that it was the only player in the game, ruling New Democracy is finding it hard to accept it’s no longer leading opinion polls. Until recently, losing an election was unthinkable, so the latest figures have thrown the conservatives into turmoil. All eyes are, naturally, on party leader Costas Karamanlis. He is expected to perform that sleight of hand that will change the mood and restore confidence among party members. To be sure, ND is still in the race. After all PASOK’s lead is mostly based on protest voters. Things would be better for the Socialists if they had managed to convince the electorate that they are a trusted alternative. Karamanlis’s speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair showed he is out of touch with the public. This explains his shock at the tilting power balance, despite the fact that this was an accident waiting to happen. The next few days will show if the premier has finally got the message. No publicity stunt, bold as it may be, will do this time. It may create some positive impressions but will fall short of tilting the balance in ND’s favor, despite PASOK’s lingering instability. The same goes for the government’s backpedaling on several important issues. It may be panic or opportunism, but the government has made a number of spectacular U-turns. The latest opinion polls do not reflect some one-off disappointment. The recent scandals, which were the last straw for some, have taken a hefty toll on the government’s credibility. The same scandal that once would only leave a small scar could now bring the entire government to its knees. If they want to regain their lost credibility, the conservatives must take the longer road. New Democracy must change its style as well as policy. But it’s far from certain that Karamanlis can change course under the current political circumstances.

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