Silly games, serious questions

George Papandreou and Costas Simitis are equally to blame for the unbelievable silliness that raises serious questions regarding the abilities of the PASOK party leader who wants to govern Greece and the former prime minister who did so for eight years. The absence of Simitis’s name from the October 4 ballot indicates arrogance and pettiness on both sides. This bickering is of no use to voters, who are looking for policies that will solve their problems. Whether Simitis is seen as the representative of the now-discredited «reformist» wing of PASOK or not, or whether or not the one politician tried to get the upper hand over the other, Simitis remains for many voters a significant political figure. He won the trust of middle-ground voters in 1996 and 2000, the same political area that Costas Karamanlis managed to win over in 2004. During Simitis’s term in office, the country prepared a successful Olympic Games, it became a member of the eurozone and succeeded in getting Cyprus into the European Union. Simitis did not manage to solve the country’s basic problems and each success may have come at great cost but at least something was getting done – whether in domestic projects or abroad, with the successful term as EU president during the very difficult first half of 2003 and Greece’s term on the UN Security Council. Simitis personified a great paradox: He was a founding member of PASOK, yet always seemed a stranger in the party. But at the end of PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou’s life, the party made a great leap of faith, electing Simitis to lead it (with George Papandreou’s support), realizing that only by appearing to change everything would it be able to remain in power. The party thereby managed to survive losing the man who had founded it as a personal vehicle. As prime minister, however, Simitis often looked like someone who suddenly found himself riding a bull – one horn was the unpredictable party mechanism, the other was a mix of the weak state and the powerful businessmen who know how to shape events in their interests. Simitis made his compromises, turning a blind eye to many problems, and he allied himself with many powerful forces in the party and society. That is until early 2001, when his own party’s rejection of social security reforms panicked him; he froze, betraying himself and his closest aides. All that was left for him to do was to manage day-to-day affairs and wait for certain electoral defeat. He handed the party over to George Papandreou in a way that looked like it was their personal business, forcing the latter to hold a «referendum,» in which party members and «friends» voted for him (he was unopposed) in order to legitimize his leadership. Papandreou did the same when Evangelos Venizelos challenged him for the party leadership after an election defeat in 2007. Today Papandreou is on the threshold of power. Not because he has won the trust of voters through his policies but because Karamanlis has failed. Voters now have to choose between a party that did not wage the battles that it now says it must and the other, which seems to have no message other than the conviction that it is now time for its leader to lead the country. Perhaps that is why 42 percent of the electorate believes that neither New Democracy nor PASOK can be expected to govern well (according to the latest Public Issue poll for Kathimerini and Skai). Karamanlis carries the burden of lost opportunities and of being unable to rid himself of the aging barons who are still on the party’s ballots. Papandreou, on the other hand, expends his efforts by acting tough against anyone who crosses him. He has every right to act tough, and, indeed, this is often necessary. But as party leader, he is obliged to weigh the consequences of his actions. And losing Simitis before the elections shows an inexplicable recklessness with his political capital. Simitis, too, who still had the aura of being the only politician in Greece’s recent history to treat voters like adults, has undermined his own legacy. The obstinacy and childish games on both sides serve only to stress the poverty of our politics.