Posts Tagged 'ND'

A dose of the right medicine for New Democracy

By Harry van Versendaal

Some three months since ousting a veteran MP for suggesting that “extremist right-wing droplets” had infiltrated the party, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras last week welcomed two far-right politicians into the fold.

Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis were both expelled from the ultranationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), the junior partner in Greece’s coalition government, for supporting the terms of Greece’s loan deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The perennially ambivalent LAOS rejected the deal and withdrew its support from the government. Meanwhile, Samaras, who had vehemently opposed the first loan deal in 2010, ousted 22 deputies for turning down the second aid package.

Analysts have interpreted the recruitment of the two politicians as an attempt to offset the damage of losing the 22 MPs and, on a more strategic level, as a bid to rally a party base disaffected by ND’s involvement in the coalition government.

“Damaged from his involvement in the coalition, Samaras wants to siphon votes from crumbling LAOS,” historian and political blogger Vasilis Liritsis told Kathimerini English Edition.

Going mainstream came with a hefty price for the party of Giorgos Karatzaferis, who saw its popularity tumble to 5 percent, from 8 percent during its heyday in 2010. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) party has surged to 3 percent, hitting the threshold for entering Parliament.

“For ND, having the two far-right politicians on board is part of a bigger strategy to eat into rightist territory,” Liritsis said.

However, some observers point out, this is not an indiscriminate overture to the far right. The conservatives are only trying to woo politicians who backed the bailout deal.

“ND needs to show its electorate that the memorandum was not only supported by PASOK and other reformists but also by a section of the nationalist far right,” said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political science professor at Panteion University in Athens.

“This is what brought Voridis and Georgiadis to ND,” she said.

Gray zone

Voridis and Georgiadis, who were both given portfolios in the coalition government led by former central banker Lucas Papademos, have repeatedly drifted into democracy’s gray zone by expressing nationalist and anti-immigration views.

Georgiadis, who resigned as deputy minister for development, competitiveness and merchant marine, has made a name for himself as a flamboyant telemarketer and publisher of pseudo-scientific patriotic literature. He has in the past called for the en-masse deportation of Albanian immigrants and, as a lawyer, he has defended historian and Holocaust denier Costas Plevris in court.

Voridis, who has kept his position as minister for infrastructure, transport and networks, was leader of the EPEN (National Political Union) youth group founded in the early 1980s by Greece’s jailed dictator Georgios Papadopoulos. A few years later, he was banned from the student union at the Athens Law School for engaging in extremist acts. A picture of Voridis taken around that time shows him walking down a central Athens street with a homemade ax. In the mid-1990s, he founded the nationalist Hellenic Front (Elliniko Metopo), modeled after Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France. Hellenic Front was absorbed by LAOS in 2005.

“Can you imagine any of them in charge of a ministry dealing with immigrants?” Liritsis said. “These are dangerous people.”

Voridis has gradually gone mainstream, adopting a crafted, airbrushed image. His public language habitually taps into popular concerns about crime, illegal immigration and law-breaking acts of leftist activists. His tough positions tread the limits of political correctness but usually not enough to alienate a mainstream audience.

“I was a political activist of the right,” said Voridis last week while labeling the conservatives as a “big patriotic liberal party.”

“ND’s ideology is tied to two central concepts that belong to the value system of the right: the nation and freedom,” he said.

Endgames

ND has historically had an ambivalent relationship with the far right. Faced with the prospect of election defeat in 1981, the party absorbed the royalist National Alignment (Ethniki Parataxi), although that was not enough to stop Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK from sweeping to power. In 2000, conservative leader Costas Karamanlis ejected Karatzaferis, who went on to form his splinter LAOS party. He still scored a comfortable victory four years later.

“When things are going well for ND, it likes to keep a distance from the far right. However, when they’re not and the party needs to galvanize support, it tries to embody the far right into its core,” said Georgiadou.

This is certainly one of those times. The tectonic plates of Greek politics are shifting as failure to grapple with the deepening financial crisis has sparked an unprecedented rejection of the two-party system that dominated Greece’s post-dictatorship politics, commonly referred to here as the “metapolitefsi.”

Brutal belt-tightening measures, soaring unemployment and a pervasive sense of precariousness and lost bearings are making Greeks responsive to bunker-ish rhetoric from the edges of the political spectrum.

Despite PASOK’s abysmal ratings in recent polls, ND is struggling to keep its head above 30 percent — not enough to form a government on its own. Meanwhile, combined support for the three leftist parties is at 42.5 percent, according to the most recent poll by Public Issue.

Centrifugal politics

Can people like Voridis and Georgiadis boost ND’s unconvincing ratings? Analysts are not so sure. Georgiadou says the strategy would work if it helped convince voters that ND was not drawn by PASOK or European leaders into backing the memorandum but rather did so out of conviction that doing so was in the national interest.

“But if the recruitment of Voridis and Georgiadis was to mobilize the anti-right reflexes of centrist and center-right voters, then any gains on the right could be offset by defecting centrist voters,” Georgiadou added.

That said, most of the damage to the center has already been inflicted by the very presence of Samaras at the helm of the party.

“Look at ND. It’s not just Voridis or Georgiadis,” Liritsis said, pointing at close Samaras associates such as Failos Kranidiotis and Chrysanthos Lazaridis — both members of the nationalist Diktyo 21 think thank. Kranidiotis, a ND hardliner, this week said that with Samaras in charge of ND, LAOS no longer served any political purpose.

“ND has completely lost the middle ground. It is gradually verging into far-right territory, turning more and more into a party reminiscent of the 1950s populist right,” Liritsis said.

The transformation certainly marks a big change from yesteryear, when Greece’s big parties battled for control of the center. PASOK climbed to power in the mid-1990s after Costas Simitis swayed the center, riding the hype of Third Way politics engineered by fellow social democrats like Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder. Again, hijacking the middle ground was key to conservative Costas Karamanlis’s success eight years later.

“The voices of people like Kyriakos Mitsotakis or Costis Hatzidakis are no longer heard,” said Liritsis in referrence to ND’s so-called liberal faction while lamenting the country’s drifting from consensual centrism.

“The sad truth is there’s no party left to express the middle ground anymore.”

Advertisements

The wrong mix that pushed ND to the right

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

By Harry van Versendaal

It was blurry and opportunistic but it anchored New Democracy at the center of Greece’s political spectrum. The once-hyped middle-ground policy, the brainchild of Costas Karamanlis’s spin doctors, successfully reeled in the pool of centrist voters previously attracted by the modernist-minded PASOK leader Costas Simitis, giving the conservative leader a victory in the 2004 elections.

ND has abruptly turned its back on that legacy, as new leader Antonis Samaras steers the party to the right on virtually every topic from the economy to foreign policy and immigration.

“Samaras stands for the most base nationalist, reactionary and xenophobic elements of society,” a former ND deputy who wished to remain anonymous told Kathimerini English Edition. “His political credo has nothing to do with the liberal and pro-European line that won elections past,” he said in reference to the legacy bequeathed by the late Constantine Karamanlis, the emblematic politician who established the party in 1974.

Samaras unveiled his political religion during the party’s race for a new president in 2009. Behind the obfuscatory fog of generalities, Samaras’s brand of “social liberalism” was basically a repackaging of the old-fashioned popular right built around patriotism, tradition and suspicion of an unfettered free market.

It all became clearer when Samaras addressed the Thessaloniki International Fair last month. The 60-year-old politician made references to Bismarck’s “horses of history.” He invoked the “dream of 1821,” a reference to Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman occupation. He promised to make education more ethnically aware and to scrap PASOK’s more liberal citizenship law should ND be voted into power. And, finally, he promised increased scrutiny for asylum seekers and a tougher line on crime and drugs.

All that was topped with an appeal to God. “This is a battle for survival. In the trenches there are no atheists, everyone prays,” he said, receiving a nod from a teary-eyed Thessaloniki Bishop Anthimos.

The new profile is reflected in Samaras’s narrow circle of advisers — most prominently Chrysanthos Lazaridis, a member of the nationalist Diktyo 21 think tank (interestingly also a former member of the Communist Party of the Interior). The transformation has naturally drawn vitriol from pundits on the left, but also raised eyebrows from ND’s more liberal cadres, who “feel totally estranged within the party,” in the words of the former MP.

ND’s two vice presidents, respected former European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas and fuzzy centrist Dimitris Avramopoulos, are reportedly uncomfortable with the reactionary yen of their new leader. Deputies Costis Hatzidakis and Kyriakos Mitsotakis also appear to feel out of place in the nascent formation. ND has found itself alienated inside the European People’s Party, which brings together all center-right parties in the European Parliament.

Analysts say the penchant is more ideological than cynical.

“Samaras’s political record shows he is a true believer in this type of ideology,” George Pagoulatos, a professor of European political economy at Athens University of Economics and Business, said in a recent interview with Kathimerini.

Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political science professor at Panteion University in Athens, agrees that Samaras’s ND is, at least in part, propelled by doctrinaire conviction, rather than necessity. “It’s about who ‘we’ are, ‘our’ ideological principles,” she said.

Samaras, an economics graduate of Amherst College, Massachusetts, where he famously shared digs with George Papandreou, was eventually beaten by his roommate in the race for Greece’s top post. Samaras’s political journey has been less straightforward than that of his old friend.

As ND’s foreign minister, in 1993 Samaras helped bring down the government of Constantine Mitsotakis, accusing him of adopting a soft stance on the still-unresolved Macedonia issue. He went on to establish his own short-lived Political Spring party before his spectacular comeback into the fold that saw him climb all the way to the highest echelon of ND. In a major blow to ND’s liberal faction, he beat Dora Bakoyannis, Mitsotakis’s daughter, in the leadership contest.

Pragmatism

The repositioning orchestrated by ND’s apparatchiks since that day has also been dictated by pragmatism.

As Greece’s disillusioned voters turn their backs on the political system and institutions that have failed them, Georgiadou says, politicians are turning to ideas and values that have not been discredited in the popular mind. “The conservatives are falling back on tried-and-tested recipes. The nation, as such, is a timeless value,” she said.

For Pagoulatos, ND is trying to depoliticize its public language in a bid to attract those parts of society that have grown skeptical of globalization or even the European Union project. “By sticking to traditional values, ND is betting on that parochial sentiment that runs across all societies. There’s an element of nostalgia in all this,” he said.

ND has played the nostalgia card with a good dose of economic populism.

“The conservatives deem they can capitalize on the decline of the ruling party and voter frustration with the Memorandum,” Pagoulatos said in reference to the bailout deal signed between the Socialist administration and the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Samaras, who on Wednesday turned down a proposal to travel with Papandreou to a key European summit in Brussels on Sunday, opposes PASOK’s economic policy mix, promoting instead a pleasant-sounding cocktail of lower taxes and more incentives for business. Meanwhile, ND has voiced opposition to layoffs in the state sector. In a move that smacked of 1980s-style populism, the conservatives vowed to ditch government plans to place some 30,000 state workers in a special labor reserve force as soon as they return to power.

“It’s a return to the old-style popular right, the paternalistic right, which is using the public sector as a social and political reservoir,” Pagoulatos said.

Losing the middle

In unmaking Karamanlis’s overture to the political center, Samaras seems to be hurting the electability of his party. On the other hand, some commentators say, ND is faced with a growing threat on its right, as recent polls show the ultranationalist LAOS party going from strength to strength.

A smarter strategy, Georgiadou says, would allow the conservatives to undermine support for LAOS without breaking ties with centrist voters. Instead, she says, Samaras made a “tactical blunder.”

“He did the very last thing he should have done; that is to shout out loud that ND is a very right-wing party, a party of God and the nation,” Georgiadou said. “Samaras did not have to pull his party so much to the right. After all, he alone as a politician symbolizes a shift in that direction,” she explained.

Others insist centrist voters were beyond Samaras’s reach anyway. “He does not run the risk of losing the middle ground — simply because the middle ground would never vote for someone like him,” the former MP said.

Samaras evidently believes that ideological purity is strength. Such purity may indeed galvanize the grass roots who have grown allergic to consensual centrism. But it will not necessarily translate into winning numbers. According to an opinion poll conducted this month, ND’s approval rating is an anemic 31.5 percent — not enough to govern on its own, although it does lead the Socialists by a comfortable margin. With an approval rating of 35 percent, Samaras’s own popularity is lagging behind that of two minor party leaders.

“The party’s catchment will shrink. ND is perhaps more consistent on an ideological level, but it will come to express a rather stagnant slice of the electorate,” the ex-MP said.

“With the things he has said and done, Samaras has tied his hands behind his own back.”


Latest Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 31 other followers

Advertisements