Gold and dross

With elections, the people, like a great alchemist, turn a group of people into a government and place in them all their hopes for the country’s development and for the solution of accumulated problems. Then, the people watch to see whether this lump of lead has indeed turned to gold or whether the glitter was just the reflection of their desires. And so people who are seldom better than average undertake missions that would have broken Hercules. Because citizens need to believe that this team will achieve what no other did, they shower the new government with their hopes; They begin to believe that maybe this time things will be better. How else can one explain the fact that though PASOK won the elections with 44 percent of the vote, a Public Issue poll published yesterday by Kathimerini found that 83 percent of respondents are «satisfied» with the first impressions created by the new government? What happened to double support for PASOK? Very simply, as the new government, PASOK now represents the hopes of all the people – not only those who voted for it. Indicative of this is the fact that 70 percent of those who voted for New Democracy last Sunday are «satisfied» with George Papandreou’s government. But, as the poll notes, after the elections of 2004 and 2007, which New Democracy won, support for the new government was greater than the percentage with which the party had won the election (73 percent and 57 percent, respectively). The polls that preceded the elections paint a similar picture. From the moment he became the PASOK leader ahead of the 2004 elections, Papandreou came consistently behind Costas Karamanlis as to who was «more capable of being prime minister» – even when PASOK was ahead of New Democracy in voters’ preferences. But in the weeks before these elections, when Karamanlis called the snap poll and it was clear that Papandreou would be the next prime minister, his «capability» ranking suddenly rose, until he superseded Karamanlis two weeks before the election. This was the same man who two years earlier had been blamed for PASOK’s worst election loss since the party first came to power in 1981. In 2007, Papandreou was forced to deal with universal doubt about his abilities and had to fight for his political survival, beating back an effort by Evangelos Venizelos to take over the party. This brawl was a godsend: Until then, Papandreou was widely seen as having simply inherited the party founded by his father in 1974. This was compounded by the way in which former Prime Minister Costas Simitis handed over the party to him just in time for its defeat in 2004. Beating Venizelos gave Papandreou a legitimacy that he did not have. Since then, Papandreou has shown that he may have a broad smile but behind it lie teeth of steel. The divorce with Simitis before the elections and the fact that he has named a Cabinet precisely as he wanted it, show that he owes nothing to no one and does not feel the need to keep a balance between party factions. The 10.5 percent margin of victory, the 160 seats in Parliament and the turmoil wracking New Democracy have given him a «mandate to turn things around,» as he told his first Cabinet meeting. Papandreou has not spoken about the economy yet. His ministers must first get a clear view of the situation and, anyhow, this is a sector in which he cannot expect good news nor promise better days. In the sphere of state-citizen relations, though, he can do much. His first moves are encouraging – the open Cabinet meeting, the public procedure of choosing ministries’ general secretaries, the summoning of Citizen’s Advocate Giorgos Kaminis to brief ministers on the problems and potential of the public administration, the call to codify and simplify laws. Papandreou is a mix between the scion of a political dynasty and a social democrat who has lived in countries where people progress on their merits. Perhaps this, along with the difficult years he spent in opposition, may lead him to change Greece. He has the good intentions and the people want to see him succeed. But the people have very often seen people whom they turned into gold sink like lead balloons.