Another step toward the void

Whenever we think that things cannot get worse, they do. Not only does Greece have to deal with an economic crisis that is threatening to undermine the fabric of our society; not only does it have a terrorism problem, which, though insignificant, has placed Greece in the same category as Yemen, with both countries being portrayed internationally as «exporters» of terrorism – now the country is in danger of political instability if the government is not satisfied with the results of the local and regional elections. Because all indications are that the candidates backed by PASOK will not win the main prizes of Attica’s regional governor and the city halls of Athens and Thessaloniki in the voting this Sunday and next, the government may be forced to carry out its threat to hold national elections. In the midst of all our problems, the only bright point was that we had a stable government. Having won with an unprecedented 10 percent margin just over a year ago, PASOK is – or perhaps was – in a unique position to introduce reforms and take measures to save the economy before its four-year mandate expired. Last week, however, Prime Minister George Papandreou said in a nationally broadcast news conference that if the local elections showed PASOK had lost the support needed to make changes, he would go to the people. With austerity measures beginning to bite, and with the opposition unanimous in its condemnation of the terms of the 110-billion-euro bailout provided by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, it is almost certain that the results of these elections will not be as encouraging as those of 2009. National elections would most likely lead to a reduced majority for PASOK or a return to power by New Democracy, which is campaigning against the memorandum signed with the EU and the IMF. So, if national elections are held, we will either have a weaker government trying to impose change on Greece, or be governed by a party opposed to the bailout plan. Once again, the Greeks are forging strategy without a thought for what their partners abroad will say. It is quite likely that when the EU and IMF see that the Greeks are not taking economic reform seriously, they may delay a tranche of the loan agreement. This would lead to immediate social crisis, as pensions, public sector salaries and fuel imports would be suspended. This might concentrate everyone’s mind wonderfully but the drawback is that we could see fighting in the streets. Given PASOK’s rash bluff and the opposition parties’ anti-memorandum populism, it is evident that our politicians have not quite realized that the country’s future is at stake. Instead of striving for consensus, each wants to grab political gains at the other’s cost, they seek their own benefit at the country’s expense. PASOK, which had grasped the nettle of unpopular reforms, now appears to be looking for an excuse to walk away. And to think that things were going as well as could be expected under the circumstances: People have tolerated the sacrifices that they have had to make, in tacit understanding that drastic measures are needed to save the nation. Also, the new map of municipal and regional constituencies, aimed at streamlining the bureaucracy and giving much greater power to local governments, increases the need to elect the most capable people to these positions. But the government has not appeared to focus on making the election a success. Instead of fully backing candidates such as former Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis (who is running for mayor of Athens as an independent with half-hearted support from PASOK) and trying to highlight the importance of local government, PASOK has taken the opposition’s bait and fought this election as if it were a referendum on the popularity of the bailout. It has done a disservice to the country and to itself. It has painted itself into a corner and is now challenging the electorate to find a way out. This is the kind of governing that brought the country to its current plight.