A vote for change

These elections could well be the last ones with the current political system. Ruling PASOK managed to hold on to the largest number of votes; main opposition New Democracy failed to make any significant gains, though it campaigned on a populist platform opposed to the austerity measures mandated by Greece’s partners in the EU and the IMF. Though they gave them far fewer votes than in last year’s parliamentary elections, the voters kept the two main parties in a holding pattern, despite the government’s unprecedented program of spending cuts and structural reforms. With an estimated 75 percent of respondents in a poll saying that they were opposed to the measures, it is noteworthy that they still gave PASOK the opportunity to continue with them. Neither of the two parties that have governed since 1974 can claim to have come out stronger. At best, voters still tolerate them. This tolerance, however, will not last long, as the record number of people who did not vote suggests. Last night it appeared that about 46 percent of voters had stayed away. This is a serious warning to the political system that many voters are not interested in what the parties have to offer. At the same time, smaller, unpublicized forces are gaining influence. This brings us to Athens, where we had an earthquake. Before the first round of voting and even last night, few believed Giorgos Kaminis, the soft-spoken academic who served as a very successful Ombudsman, would be elected mayor. Proposed by a reformist splinter, Democratic Left, Kaminis was backed by PASOK in a way that could best be described as half-hearted. PASOK last had a mayor in Athens City Hall in 1986 and did not want to seem to be too closely allied with another defeat. But it is the very fact that he was not embraced by PASOK that seems to have got him elected. In Thessaloniki, where the result was still too close to call last night, another PASOK-backed outsider, winemaker Yiannis Boutaris, appeared to be scoring another upset in an ND stronghold. Prime Minister George Papandreou has a penchant for placing his trust in nonpolitical figures, but he is also the personification of the establishment. Today he faces the greatest challenge of any recent prime minister: He must reform both the country’s economy and its political system. And he will only achieve this if he changes them both. Utterly. The people demand this. And they have shown how it can be done.