Time is a tough ally

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

Time can play strange games with us, swing­ing be­tween gen­eros­ity and stingi­ness, in an in­stant. In Greece to­day, even as the coun­try faces tough dead­lines in the ef­fort to re­vive its econ­omy, the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem finds it­self with a rare lux­ury – plenty of time be­fore the next elec­tions. Eco­nomic pres­sures, how­ever, will de­ter­mine what hap­pens in our pol­i­tics, as they de­mand quick and rad­i­cal changes to our par­ties and po­lit­i­cal men­tal­ity. Sel­dom has our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem been given so much time in which to carry out a very nec­es­sary re­or­ga­ni­za­tion. The next sched­uled elec­tions are in 2019 – for lo­cal gov­ern­ment and for the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are in 2020. Af­ter last month’s na­tional elec­tions, Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras has a man­date un­til late 2019. The­o­ret­i­cally, this should al­low him to carry out mea­sures with­out wor­ry­ing about the im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal cost. This al­lows time for re­forms to be­gin work­ing so as to off­set their cost. It also gives op­po­si­tion par­ties the op­por­tu­nity to re­or­ga­nize them­selves, to elect new lead­ers and shape new pro­grams and al­liances; it al­lows new par­ties to emerge. It has been clear for years that the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem needs re­newal – but elec­tions (and an in­ex­pli­ca­ble ref­er­en­dum) kept get­ting in the way not only of change but even the ba­sics of gov­ern­ment. This lee­way, how­ever, is off­set by pres­sure on the eco­nomic front. By Mon­day, the gov­ern­ment must reach agree­ment with its eu­ro­zone part­ners on 40 or so mea­sures that must be im­ple­mented within Oc­to­ber so that Greece can re­ceive 2 bil­lion eu­ros, the first tranche of a new 83-bil­lion-euro loan. Also, the first eval­u­a­tion of Greece’s ef­forts by cred­i­tors must be com­pleted in time for banks to be re­cap­i­tal­ized by the end of the year so as to avoid a bailin. The other cruel chal­lenge is that the econ­omy has to re­cover more than a decade of lost ground, as a re­sult of the im­passe which it reached in 2009, the fail­ure of the pre­vi­ous two bailouts to set it back on its feet, and the dam­age caused by the SYRIZAIn­de­pen­dent Greeks gov­ern­ment’s dis­as­trous brinkman­ship this year. In 2014, be­fore SYRIZA’s elec­tion, gross do­mes­tic prod­uct and av­er­age fam­ily in­comes had fallen back to 2003 lev­els. Pri­vate bank de­posits, too, are where they were 12 years ago. The im­pact of the cap­i­tal con­trols im­posed this year is still not clear but is cer­tain to be dis­as­trous. The longer the sit­u­a­tion re­mains un­sta­ble, the greater the eco­nomic cost will be. Con­se­quently, the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal cost will be even greater than it is now. With so much pres­sure for im­me­di­ate change, and with so much time to deal with it, Tsipras has no more ex­cuses to avoid gov­ern­ing, and the op­po­si­tion par­ties have the op­por­tu­nity to re­struc­ture and to de­velop poli­cies that will pro­vide vi­able al­ter­na­tives to what vot­ers were of­fered in the past and which brought us to this mess. Time waits for no one, but at this mo­ment it could be our ally.

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