Left, right, center

The election of Antonis Samaras to lead the New Democracy party is widely seen as a «right-hand turn.» But isn’t ND a right-wing party anyway? And when we say «right-hand turn,» are we distinguishing it from some leftist alternative within ND? Is Dora Bakoyannis center-left? If so, what kind of left is the mummified Communist Party of Greece? The terms right, center and left have become elastic bands, used to characterize the type of consensus and government that has prevailed since the 1990s. The common denominator running through those years has been the magic potion of «center-something» (the center-right of Constantine Mitsotakis and of Costas Karamanlis, the center-left of Costas Simitis) and the ritual chanting of the mantras «reform» and »modernization.» Dragging ND into an imaginary center space where centrist politicians agree on just about everything, particularly the decoupling of politics from the economy and society, is what lost ND the elections. Similarly, it was a centrist modernization that led to Simitis’s crushing defeat. The centrist George Papandreou took heed and flirted openly with «populist PASOK» in order to strengthen his leadership and win the elections. Antonis Samaras heeded the wishes of his electoral base (that is, the people) for clear boundaries, for concrete ideas, for a return to the much-maligned «populist right.» The key here is the term «populist,» the unpredictable pendulum at the polls (in 2004 and in 2009), despite attempts to monitor and control the trend in the direction of the prevailing right-left tradition – it is the populist element that takes risks. Samaras went along with that desire and won. He is now faced with the possibility of changing the political agenda to go beyond the centrist prevarication.