for real change
News, 9 October 2009
Prime Minister George Papandreouís landslide election victory goes
beyond resounding. It represents the best chance a Greek government
has had in years, if not decades, of bringing substantial reform to
a country plagued by a quagmire of bureaucracy and chronic social problems
with pensions, health and education.
Yes, it's significant that the socialists now dominate parliament with
an impressive majority of 160 seats. But just as important, if not
more so, is the momentum that comes with that persuasive victory and
- dare we say - hope for change.
Papandreou's political thinking has always been informed, if not guided,
by the social and moral tenets governing the so-called Scandinavian
political model - with its emphasis on a functional civil service,
social welfare, the environment and new technologies.
His cabinet selection - including a record number of women and promising
fresh faces (although it must be said with little prior experience
in office) shows his intent to move in a new direction, one liberated
from partisan politics and the client-state system, whereby political
favouritism trumps merit.
Added to this is the fact that New Democracy, now the main opposition,
is substantially weakened and on the verge of imploding, giving the
new Pasok government ample "breathing space", to borrow Papandreou's
phrase. In effect, as opinion polls have repeatedly shown, Pasok can
expect to benefit from a period of grace because nobody expects easy
answers any time soon.
Paradoxically, even while in the midst of the globeís Great Recession,
never in recent years have the omens been so good for an incoming Greek
government. And rarely has a new government consciously made such an
effort for a clean break with the past.
When the socialists first came to power in 1981, it came under the
banner of Megali Allagi, or Big Change, with the intent of ridding
Greece of the political and social instability that characterised the
country in the 1960s and '70s, and empowering an emerging new middle
With all its problems and scandals, Pasok governments under Andreas
Papandreou and Kostas Simitis did bring social and institutional change
to Greece, albeit with a lot of gaps. It's for the latest Papandreou
PM now to complete the job.
It was a different outlook then - the idea of a Megali Allagi -
that helped Pasok push through reforms in the '80s. And it's a different
outlook now. Lifting Greece out of its stifling crisis is a Herculean
task, but that said, George Papandreou is better placed than any of
his predecessors to pull it off.