From Papandreou to Papademos

From Papandreou to Papademos

The new government in Greece under Lucas Papademos is presenting its program this evening before a parliament that is still trying to absorb the shock of last week’s cataclysmic changes in Greece’s political landscape.

After a lot of arm twisting and horse trading between the government party, the main opposition and the ultra-right, the prime minister withdrew and an eminent academic and former vice president of the ECB, Papademos, was appointed as the head of an interim government to lead the country to early elections in February.

Given the dire straits of the Greek economy and the inability of the George Papandreou government to push an unpopular package of austerity measures, few doubt that the solution of a consensus government agreed by the main parties would be the only solution. It could also calm reactions domestically and abroad.

But for a country where political parties are historically run by their leaders and with no tradition for consensus governance, this latest experiment proved both hard to stomach and nearly impossible to implement. Although the first obvious choice, both for his credentials as a fiscal expert but also as a credible, trustworthy international technocrat, Papademos was undermined by the very political establishment that had initially asked for his help.

Although his name was announced by the international media almost as soon as the Papandreou government decided to hand over power, the confirmation of his appointment took more than five days. During this period, all three parties involved in the appointment of the new government got entangled in an unprecedented wrangling over possible candidates for the post of the interim prime minister other than Papademos.

Their objectives were quite different: the outgoing government in order to push through a candidate of its own choice, the main opposition for not appearing too involved in an arrangement that would make its big policy shift too apparent and the ultra-right party in order to secure its place in the new government through the appointment of some of its members in ministerial posts.

The prolonged infighting among the political establishment to maintain its power ended in an impasse and Papademos’ name came back as the unavoidable solution. He is now heading a government of an unusually large number of members where the main ministries – like the Ministry of Finance – continue to be run by members of the previous administration. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense are headed by members of the main opposition, while the ultra-right also managed to get ministerial posts, some of them quite crucial.

The Papademos government is expected to be approved by a large majority. The first opinion polls show 73 percent approval of the new government. The same polls also show a dramatic fall in the popularity of Papandreou’s party (11.2 percent), while the main opposition manages just 21.8 percent. At the same time there is a marked rise in the popularity for the three leftist parties now reaching around 25 percent in total. More than 58 percent of the voters of PASOK want the replacement of George Papandreou as a party leader, while both voters and some members of the main opposition party feel their leader betrayed its own political line by entering into a consensus with Papandreou.

All these signify is that the main political parties in Greece, which eventually brought a technocrat to power, are also likely to undermine his possible success. Such a successful Papademos government may create its own popular base, which could be to the detriment of the traditional political establishment. And if this government proves credible to foreign circles for the implementation of the austerity package and also gains credibility among the people through a fairer administration, it would perhaps make it a longer-lasting political solution.