Slender majorities and rule of inertia

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The premature end of the conservative administration under Constantine Mitsotakis in 1993 did much damage to PASOK. For the short-lived tenure of the New Democracy government bred arrogance among Socialist officials who scorned what is commonly referred to as the "brief interval." No sooner had the conservatives climbed to power in March 7, 2004 than PASOK officials began to speculate about their collapse. In 2005, the Socialists were of course still waiting. In 2006, they were asking themselves, "How come they (ND) are still in power?"

Ironically, however, the notion of the "brief interval" eventually did greater damage to ND than it did to PASOK. ND wasted the first four-year term gripped by the fear of fulfilling the PASOK curse. As a result, reforms came to a halt. The government was all but hiding, as if it feared that voters may actually notice it was in charge. The "brief interval" became something of a stress disorder for the political system at large. It prevented PASOK from renewing itself and stymied all efforts toward structural reform. PASOK was trying to confirm the scenario and ND was trying equally hard to refute it. Everything came to a halt.

Many maintain that it was the late Socialist Premier Andreas Papandreou who toppled the ND government in its third year. Others - fewer and mostly leftist commentators - believe that it was the wave of protests and social struggle that did it. The truth is that it was Giorgos Symbilidis, the defecting MP, who did it. Yes, the mood was sour. And, yes, the government was undermined (also by its own mistakes). And, yes, Papandreou's opposition tactics also helped.

However, had a number of ND deputies not defected to form the Political Spring party, the government would have had completed its four-year term despite all the Socialist attacks and public rallies. Most certainly, all these things influence and shape national policy. But they are not strong enough to bring about radical change. However strong the opposition criticism may be, however mature the social demand for change may be, governments in Greece only fall when deputies withdraw their support. The 1985-1989 period proves the point. Back then, PASOK found itself in a really difficult position, having been hit by the biggest scandal in the post-1974 period. In the meantime, its ailing leader was hospitalized in the UK. All newspapers - with the exception of Avriani - were calling for elections. Mitsotakis's opposition was unrelenting. The left - united under the Left Coalition (Synaspismos) - was also hammering at PASOK. PASOK was up against all odds and yet its government expired on completion of its official tenure down to the last day.

Niels Bohr, the Nobel Laureate physicist, once remarked "prediction is very difficult - especially about the future." The future of ND's now trimmed-down parliamentary majority is unknown. But it seems certain that the country is about to enter another period of inertia. In its first tenure, ND kept postponing reforms, fearing it might be reduced to a "right-wing interval." In its second tenure it will do the same, because it will not have enough parliamentary strength to advance them.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 07/02/2008