A false dilemma

It seems that the battle in Greece’s local and municipal elections will not be fought over the 1,033 municipalities, 51 prefectures and three super-prefectures. The political outcome will, instead, be decided by the confrontation between the Athens-Piraeus super-prefect conservative candidate Yiannis Tzannetakos and the Socialist contender, Fofi Yennimata. Three weeks before the crucial battle, PASOK has managed to focus public attention almost entirely on this single confrontation. New Democracy’s decision to nominate Tzannetakos for Athens-Piraeus initially met with skepticism among certain conservative officials. It was neither the first nor the last in a long series of errors committed by the two main parties in their search for figures who are publicly seen as standing above party lines. PASOK has tried subsequently to turn Tzannetakos into the Achilles’ heel of ND’s electoral strategy. The Socialists revoked the conservative candidate’s remarks on the identity card controversy and his critical comments of Archbishop Christodoulos, who indirectly rebuffed Tzannetakos’s nomination. How tragicomic indeed. Tzannetakos’s stance on the identity card issue – which actually coincided with the government’s – was exploited by the ruling party to discourage conservative supporters and to dissuade them from voting for the ND candidate. The archbishop, for his part, went on to criticize the decision of ND, a party whose officials had earlier objected to the removal of religious identity from state documents. As Karamanlis himself chose to «undertake the responsibility» for his nomination, PASOK has ingeniously managed to give a potential defeat of Tzannetakos the character of a personal defeat of Karamanlis. PASOK’s effort shows that the ruling Socialists see the defeat of their nominees in Piraeus and Thessaloniki as a foregone conclusion. Moreover, its effort to play down the Athens municipality race opens the way for a first-round victory by conservative Dora Bakoyanni. Municipal elections have always had a partisan character. Voters tend to cast their vote not on issues of local administration, but rather to express their approval or disapproval of government policy. The political elite has always interpreted our vote as it suits them, that is as a premature ballot on parliamentary elections. It would be unacceptable to see this distorting politicization of the municipal elections degenerate into a personal duel between two candidates (out of a total of 3,500 mayoral candidates). Simply put, why should a vote against Tzannetakos be interpreted as a vote against ND, rather than as a personal failure of that specific candidate? And how convincing would it be to portray a victory by Yennimata as an approval of governmental performance rather than as her own personal success? The dilemma is a false one. The voters on Oct. 13 should certainly ignore it and send their own political message – a message which has nothing to do with the Yiannis-Fofi dilemma.