Attending doctor?

The selection of ministers is, of course, the institutional prerogative of any prime minister during his tenure. However, the removal of Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos inevitably raises major and glaring political questions. First, the prime minister’s decision was justified on the grounds that by announcing his imminent withdrawal from politics, Papadopoulos would become a «minister of limited political liability.» But it is doubtful whether the respected psychiatrist Costas Stefanis was chosen as a substitute for Papadopoulos on the grounds of his political weight. Moreover, what was so scandalous about Papadopoulos’s remarks in his interview with Kathimerini that would justify his removal? Indeed, criticism of «television democracy» is nothing new to Greek politics. Costas Simitis seems to have missed the fact that by firing one of his top aides for such a minor reason, he is doing an injustice to his own personal career which was marked by his outspokenness under the rule of the late Andreas Papandreou. A government with cold blood and common sense would have nothing to fear from Papadopoulos’s remarks. It could even benefit from them because, on the one hand, the former health minister showed a more human face, treating politics not as a lifelong profession but as a social contribution with an expiration date. And on the other, because Papadopoulos could be even more radical in promoting necessary reforms, as he would not be under the stress of potential re-election. The appointment of Stefanis, a university professor who will inevitably have great difficulty escaping the ties of the academic establishment where he belongs, shows that Simitis has abandoned all plans for radical reform of the health sector. Simitis’s controversial decision has added to the numerous problems of late (an undeclared war with the foreign minister, the ridicule of the Greek police force with the arson rampage in Kolonaki) which give the impression that Simitis is in charge of a paralyzed government. It also gives the impression that he acts under the influence of bad counsel, tackling major national and social issues according to party or, rather, inner-party criteria. Some months ago, Simitis told his deputies that he intends to be the party’s attending doctor. His performance, so far, does not leave much room for optimism. Papadopoulos’s case demonstrated that the premier prefers to break the thermometer when it records a high fever.