Time for real change
Athens 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 class.

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.