He may be lackluster but he’s ‘decent’

He may be lackluster but he’s ‘decent’

“You could not call him a charismatic candidate,” said one of the presenters of a popular news show the other day on Greek TV. “Yes, indeed. In such an atmosphere of heightened tension, I do not think that he could be counted in,” said his partner on the show.

George Kaminis, the mayor of Athens, has probably been one of the most “inconspicuous” mayors elected to the hottest mayoral seat in Greece. A professor of constitutional law, Kaminis was born in New York but studied and worked in Greece as an academic until he was selected in 2003 to become Greece’s ombudsman. He kept his position until 2010 when he resigned in order to run as an independent mayor of Athens, a position which he won against all odds. Four years later, he is determined to run again in a race which has already shown that it may become one of the most polarized and confrontational in recent times.

Kaminis was often accused for his lackluster nature, “uninspiring, low-key appearance” and his “boring and average” interviews in the Greek media. He took up the post when the city of Athens was plagued by the serious side-effects of the national economic crisis, when it had become the center of destructive riots, violent strike actions, ugly confrontations with the new aggressive force of the masses of the Golden Dawn and the crowds of foreign immigrants, when the municipal police was disbanded; when huge debts amassed by his predecessors prevented him from putting his municipal house in order. And he had to face at the same time a dramatic 60 percent decrease in his municipal budget due to the general austerity measures imposed by the government.

Yet four years later, Kaminis, with the same low-key style and background voice, has announced that he wants to continue his mission and asked the citizens of Athens to vote for him again in the local elections in May. “Athens municipality does not have any significant financial problem,” he says, while his supporters say he managed to find novel solutions by collaborating with the private sector and managing to get help from the European Union, as well as linking the municipality’s actions with volunteer and citizens’ groups when he became mayor in the midst of the crisis four years ago.

By announcing his intention to run again, he is walking into a minefield. Since his coming to power, Greek politics moved to the highest point of polarization. A weak coalition government is now desperate to prove that its painful austerity program has succeeded and would ideally like to grab an early election victory, probably this year. On the other hand, the main opposition Syriza is racing for time to cash in on the desperation of the population before the economy is straightened out.

Everybody knows that if things start looking better, it would be very difficult for the opposition to win votes with the same narrative of a “country in a humanitarian crisis.”

It is a minefield because the political parties decided to treat these local elections as a rehearsal for the national polls likely to be soon. But politics in Greece is witnessing a difficult era since the mainstream parties have lost their homogeneity. Their leaderships cannot control their members as before.

Deputies or local organizations can raise their flag of independence and challenge the center. This is exactly what happened in Athens. Against the low-key Kaminis, two candidates have come out from the governing party of New Democracy: one “official” and the other a “rebel,” who was the predecessor of Kaminis as mayor and who refuses to bow out in spite of the admonitions of his party. New Democracy also has to face another problem of double candidacy for the position of the governor of Central Macedonia. The sitting one refuses to make room for the one supported by his party. The leftist opposition of Syriza is also facing similar problems with local party organizations refusing to accept the candidates that the party’s central office is supporting.

Against all odds and predictions, Kaminis was shown to be the most popular candidate in three opinion polls published last week. No doubt, the PR mechanisms of the mainstream parties will now work full force to influence the public through their friendly media. But do not be surprised if Kaminis manages to survive for the simple reason that he proves to be a “decent guy” even if not the most exciting one.