Po­lit­i­cal glue that kept ND to­gether is com­ing un­stuck

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY TOM EL­LIS

New Democ­racy’s hasty de­ci­sion to ini­ti­ate the process for elect­ing a new party leader has proven un­wise. At a time when the coun­try is locked in a strug­gle to sur­vive (pass­ing painful al­beit de­ci­sive mea­sures, pro­gram re­view, bank re­cap­i­tal­iza­tion, debt re­lief), the main op­po­si­tion is lost in po­lit­i­cally dam­ag­ing navel-gaz­ing. Many a con­ser­va­tive is in­dulging in pop­ulism in the process.

It’s hard to see why the party could not con­tinue for a few more months with Evan­ge­los Meimarakis at the helm. Meimarakis might have been less than in­spir­ing as a leader, but he did man­age to pre­serve the party’s unity. New Democ­racy’s reg­u­lar con­fer­ence was af­ter all set for this com­ing spring, and could have pre­pared the ground for the elec­tion of a new leader.

In con­trast, the emer­gence of four can­di­dates and sub­se­quent in-party strife has made it im­pos­si­ble to main­tain a re­spon­si­ble stance man­dated by cir­cum­stances and the key is­sues at stake, such as the so­cial se­cu­rity and la­bor sys­tem re­forms.

New Democ­racy ap­pears to ar­tic­u­late a pub­lic lan­guage that is, at least in part, crit­i­cal of the bailout agree­ment. This has been a cause of sur­prise, if not frus­tra­tion, among Greece’s Euro­pean part­ners, par­tic­u­larly par­ties which are ide­o­log­i­cally akin to ND.

The sit­u­a­tion is bor­der­ing on the ridicu­lous: Op­po­si­tion par­ties protest the mem­o­ran­dum only to en­dorse and im­ple­ment it when they climb to power. This time we clearly saw them slip­ping back into the anti-bailout man­tle as they re­turned to the op­po­si­tion. This po­lit­i­cal theater of pop­ulism must come to an end.

Fol­low­ing SYRIZA’s shift to­ward prag­ma­tism, its en­dorse­ment of the mem­o­ran­dum and the pro­mo­tion of un­pop­u­lar aus­ter­ity mea­sures, New Democ­racy had a unique op­por­tu­nity to break with the nasty tra­di­tion of pop­ulist op­po­si­tion pol­i­tics. Here was an op­por­tu­nity to come across as a re­spon­si­ble, con­sis­tent and re­li­able party. Re­gret­tably, the con­ser­va­tives did not have the courage to do so. ND is a sorry ex­cuse for a mod­ern Euro­pean cen­ter-right party.

Per­haps it’s not easy for the pro-Europe lib­eral mem­bers of New Democ­racy, cham­pi­ons of mer­i­toc­racy and a free mar­ket econ­omy who don’t just tol­er­ate but ac­tu­ally be­lieve in di­ver­sity, to co­ex­ist in the same party as con­ser­va­tive pa­tri­ots, politi­cians that are es­sen­tially statist and, oc­ca­sion­ally, racist.

Con­ser­va­tive of­fi­cials must sober up. Oth­er­wise their an­tics, com­bined with the fact that there is no sce­nario of a quick re­turn to power (a prospect that had kept the party to­gether in the past), will sooner or later lead the party to break up into at least two sides, a lib­eral and a con­ser­va­tive one, with all the im­pli­ca­tions that such a split would have on the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

ND ap­pears to ar­tic­u­late a pub­lic lan­guage that is, at least in part, crit­i­cal of the bailout agree­ment.

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