Kostas Karamanlis as comeback kid?
A number of eyebrows were raised last week when an opinion poll suggested that former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, who oversaw Greece’s fiscal derailment between 2004 and 2009, is the most popular candidate to take over from Antonis Samaras as New Democracy leader.
Perhaps some were surprised by the fact that there is a poll on Samaras’s successor when the ex-prime minister has said that he has no intention of standing down. Samaras has been clear that he will not launch leadership proceedings and has instead directed everyone towards the party’s charter, which states that in order for the ballot to be held, a simple majority of conservative MPs and MEPS must support the motion. This means at least 41 signatures are needed to trigger a contest.
However, despite his best attempts to insist that his leadership is not in question, it is clear that Samaras’s only hope of survival is for the government to run into even deeper problems over the weeks to come, meaning that the timing for a change of leadership at New Democracy will not be appropriate.
This has not stopped some of his critics within the party from making it clear that they believe he should go as soon as possible. The charge has been lead by ex-Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and former Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias. In the poll carried out by MRB for Real News, Bakoyannis is the second most popular successor with 17.5 percent support, while Dendias is fourth with 5.3 percent, just behind current EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
It is Karamanlis’s name at the top of the pile (20.2 percent) that has drawn most attention. How could a leader who failed to deliver on his reform pledges and who lost control of public spending and revenue collection be considered the most suitable man to lead Greece’s main opposition party at this crucial time? It is a question that has left many people, particularly those outside Greece, perplexed.
However, if you pause for a moment, it is really not that surprising Karamanlis is being mentioned again as a potential saviour, not only for New Democracy but for the country in general. On the one hand, his faults have been systematically obscured, while on the other, Greece’s pool of political leaders has virtually dried up.
Since fading into the background after his crushing election defeat in October 2009, Karamanlis has maintained almost complete silence. His views have mostly been expressed through people that have remained close to him, including the new Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. By drawing this veil over his five years at the helm, Karamanlis has managed to feed the ignorance about what went wrong while he was in charge.
The lack of inquisitiveness of the Greek media, coupled with the confusion that reigns in the minds of many beleaguered Greeks, means that there is an alarming lack of awareness about how far off track the country strayed under Karamanlis’s watch. Few Greeks are aware that spending on public sector wages increased from 21.3 billion euros in 2004 to 30.7 billion in 2009 or that primary public expenditure went up from 75.3 billion euros to 116.2 billion during the same period, even though they are paying the price for this (as well as mistakes made by others) today.
At the same time, it should not forgotten that since 2009, Greeks have tried all the possible permutations of parties and leaders possible. In the last six years, Greece has been governed by PASOK on its own, by PASOK in a coalition with New Democracy and LAOS, by New Democracy and PASOK in a coalition with Democratic Left, by just New Democracy and PASOK, and now by SYRIZA and Independent Greeks. Alexis Tsipras is Greece’s fifth prime minister (if caretaker premier Panayiotis Pikrammenos is included) during this period. Greeks appeared to have exhausted the possibilities available to them.
Now that the cycle is coming to its end, and SYRIZA’s sheen is starting to wear off, it is not such a surprise that voters are considering the option of starting back at the beginning, especially given that Karamanlis’s time in office is associated with the age of plenty rather than the crisis era.
It was a time when credit was cheap, salaries and pensions high and jobs in the public sector plentiful.
Perhaps it would be easier for Greeks to consider other options if they actually existed. As things stand, Greek politics is in a state of decomposition. PASOK has almost shrunk out of sight, New Democracy is caught between the nationalist right and the reformist centre, while SYRIZA is in danger of being ripped apart by internal tension. For voters looking for somewhere else to turn to, there is nothing inspiring on the horizon. Centrist To Potami is the only new addition to the Greek political scene, but it has yet to convince that it has the gravitas and connections to broad sections of society needed to make an impact on the political scene.
While some old faces have faded away from Greek politics, little new blood is being pumped into the system. In these circumstances, and with his record still unblemished in many voters’ minds, Karamanlis appears an attractive option to some, albeit one born out of desperation. By all accounts, Tsipras offered Karamanlis the opportunity to become president before he asked Pavlopoulos. The ex-prime minister apparently turned down the opportunity because he felt that he may have more to contribute to frontline politics. It should not come as a surprise if he does, indeed, make a comeback.
*You can follow Nick on Twitter: @NickMalkoutzis. This article appeared in last week's e-newsletter, which is available to subscribers online or via our free mobile apps (App Store and Google Play).
No, I don't think so. Recycling the same politicians responsible for the crisis shows an acute lack of depth for the Greek political system.