OPINION

Irreversible damage

Public surveys have reflected New Democracy’s shrinking popularity over the past year. If the conservatives had managed to stay ahead of the Socialist opposition, that was thanks to PASOK’s failure to energize its voters. Premier Costas Karamanlis has been faced with a weak rival, which gave him temporary political advantage but nothing like solid political hegemony. PASOK’s problems were not enough to give ND a comfortable second term. The size of the protest vote traditionally grows after the first term. People are mostly driven by an urge to sweep the ruling party out of power. The nature of the successors comes second. Karamanlis climbed to power under the most favorable of circumstances. The moral humiliation of the Simitis administration was a boost for the conservatives. But Karamanlis failed to deliver on his anti-corruption pledges. He became cynical. The structured bonds scandal ushered in a period of decline that saw the prime minister losing his moral advantage. ND officials believed that losing the next election was out of the question. The recent opinion polls were a shock to them. Karamanlis’s appearance in Thessaloniki indicated a premier in a state of decline. His bravado backfired. What voters once interpreted as signs of determination and leadership now came across as arrogance. Karamanlis is no longer on top of the situation; he simply responds to it. His party expects some sleight of hand that will change the climate. But there are no magical solutions. The shift in the balance of power is the outcome of accumulated disappointment, not a contingent event. The economic crisis no doubt fuels public disappointment, but it is the scandals that translate this mood into votes against the ruling party. The Vatopedi case was the last straw. ND is like an ailing animal. Similar allegations in the past had not shaken the party. Now the allegations are snowballing, causing irreversible damage.