Theater of the absurd

So many strange things are happening on the political stage. As though the specter of bankruptcy were not enough, Prime Minister George Papandreou is now threatening to call early national elections if citizens do not «vote responsibly» in this Sunday’s local polls. Never have we seen such a dramatic admission of failure from a government. Papandreou already faces a legitimacy crisis, as the measures he imposed under the terms of the bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and European Union diverged greatly from his pre-election promises. His assertion that he had no idea of the magnitude of the problems fell flat when it was revealed that he had been fully briefed by the Bank of Greece governor prior to the elections on October 4, 2009. The prime minister’s efforts to blame the previous administration under New Democracy for the state of Greece’s finances worked, but only for a short time, while the amateurism with which the terms of the memorandum were put through and the inability of the Finance Ministry to secure the revenues it had planned for, had a negative effect on public opinion. The prospect of further cutbacks in public sector wages and pensions, a restructuring of the public debt and a further rise in unemployment has strained relationships within the ruling PASOK party to a critical level. Under this mounting pressure, Papandreou has created an unprecedented dilemma. In effect, he is predicating calling national polls on whether, for example, Giorgos Kaminis in Athens and Yiannis Boutaris in Thessaloniki – both independent candidates who are not members of PASOK – are elected or on the defeat of Yiannis Dimaras, until recently a member of PASOK, for Attica governor. You can’t make this kind of absurdity up. It seems that Papandreou is beginning to realize he is driving away the core of PASOK voters – employees and pensioners of the inner circles of the public sector and state-owned companies, and the less «privileged» socialist-minded. This latter group, however, no longer has any reason to remain loyal to a party with such openly neoliberal policies. They don’t even need to vote for ND. They can simply abstain. And even if PASOK does come out on top in Sunday’s elections, the problems will keep mounting and Papandreou will ultimately end up as the politician who dismantled PASOK. That is why he’s nervous.