With one eye on the day after

The decision to call a snap election on October 4 might have met with opposition within the ruling New Democracy party but PASOK’s declared intention to exploit next year’s presidential election to force an early recourse to the polls meant the government’s term would expire next March in any case. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis judged that this would not give him enough time to overcome the opposition party’s considerable lead. The country’s dire financial straits and, above all, pressure from the European Union are forcing him to take drastic measures that would have further eroded his party’s political standing. There are no political margins for the party’s recovery. Voters who usually swing the result are generally disillusioned and are turning their backs. In other words, ND had already missed the boat. So the prime minister was faced with the choice of five more months in power and a crushing electoral defeat in March, or fall elections with the expectation of a dignified defeat. His decision was logical, as the former would have political repercussions of a strategic nature for the ND party. If Karamanlis really plans to stay at the helm, he has every reason to want elections now. Although his party cadres are generally dissatisfied with him, there is not much likelihood they will want his head. Dora Bakoyannis, who has made no secret of her ambition to take his place, will think very carefully before raising the issue. Her influence among parliamentary deputies is considerable, but she does not have the majority. If a leadership issue does arise, Karamanlis’s supporters will probably rally to his side so as not to lose control of the party. Only an overwhelming defeat would force the issue, making it very difficult for him to stay. And that is another incentive for him to hold elections now, hoping not so much for a miraculous victory but rather the smallest possible margin of defeat, one that would make it easier for him to lay claim to a return bout.