When politics get in the way of governing

The first electoral test since Greece came under foreign stewardship is not only a major disappointment already but could also become a danger to the country’s recovery. The municipal and regional elections, which are being held in accordance with a radical reorganization of constituencies, were intended to usher in a new era in local government. But instead of leading to citizens having greater influence over their lives, the elections have turned into yet another dialogue of the deaf and the indifferent. All the parties are using next Sunday’s ballot as a referendum on the memorandum signed between Greece and its partners last May. All see the deal from the angle that suits them. The PASOK government describes the 110-billion-euro bailout as a necessary evil that was the only way to stave off bankruptcy, while main opposition New Democracy makes the bizarre claim that, under its wise stewardship, Greece could have wiped out its deficit by the end of next year, i.e., slashing it by over 15 percent without the aid or conditions set by any pesky international organizations. Even the wildly populist, extreme-right LAOS party saw the merits of the bailout and not only in its demand for radical reforms and austerity. The leftist parties are, as always, in a separate universe, where outlawing capitalism would turn everyone rich overnight, making Greece’s problems and the effort to rehabilitate the country irrelevant. It is increasingly evident that this political personnel is incapable of leading the country out of the mess that it got it into. It must be said that Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government has done more than any other to tackle the enormous problems that have accumulated over decades of political incompetence and interest groups’ bulimia but New Democracy is right to claim that PASOK’s delay in taking action after October’s national election cost the country dearly in terms of lost credibility. The opposition party, however, conveniently forgets that it was during its last watch that Greece’s economy spiraled out of control. ND replies to the charge with the claim that it was PASOK that burdened Greece from 1981 onward with debts that it could never repay. All the parties are complicit in doing all they could to spend public funds to curry favor with the largest number of citizens and the greatest number of interest groups. As the interests of these two constituencies both overlap and contradict each other, it was only through massive waste that both could be sated. So, while all should share the blame and each should try to make themselves useful in the new economic landscape, they all stick to failed policies, accusations and counteraccusations of the past. At a time when Greece’s cities, towns and villages will be severely challenged by the shortage of public funds and by the needs of ever greater numbers of poor people, it is imperative that those who are contesting the elections should offer a vision of how society can be protected from the storms and how citizens and immigrants will be cared for and shepherded toward a brighter future. Seeing how the political parties are incapable of breaking out of their tail-chasing madness, we hoped that independent individuals would leap into the breach. Some did, most notably Giorgos Kaminis, the highly respected former Ombudsman who is running for mayor of Athens. He is backed by PASOK and the new Democratic Left party, which splintered from the Left Coalition. The incumbent, Nikitas Kaklamanis, is backed by New Democracy. Kaklamanis’s record in Athens over the past four years speaks for itself, for good and ill. Kaminis’s successful stint as Citizens’ Ombudsman will have prepared him well for tackling the capital’s decline but it seems his idealism and inexperience have not dented Kaklamanis’s hopes for re-election. Whoever is elected will have to find a way to lead Athens through its most difficult time in many decades – with very little help from the parties that back him. Things are very difficult but it is only at times like this that we can expect change. The omens are not good but we have to hope.

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