Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Cabinet "Reshuffle" in Athens


  
“Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don't even notice it.”

It is difficult to observe the events surrounding the non-closure of ERT and the cabinet reshuffle in Greece with anything other that a sense of awed despair. Awe, because it is clear just how elegantly history repeats itself. Despair, because that is the only emotion this continual reshuffling of political failures in Greece merits.

Last week, the Democratic Left party withdrew from government, leading Mr. Samaras’ New Democracy (ND) – Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) coalition with 153 seats in Parliament. Many people must remember that in 1992, Antonis Samaras was removed as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Mitsotakis government, and in 1993 formed “Politiki Anoixi”, leaving the ND government with a 150 seat majority in 1993. This led to new elections, which PASOK, under Andreas Papandreou, won. Ironically, the reasons Mr. Samaras left the government were the issue of FYROM and the privatisation of OTE, the national telecom. 

Call this history repeating itself, call it karma: Mr. Samaras is now faced with the same slim majority in the Parliament. And with the need to privatise even more state organisations before him.

The reshuffle is also a source of despair. In order to retain the government he has literally spent his life trying to lead, Mr. Samaras has been forced to give Mr. Venizelos several new places in Cabinet in an attempt to keep PASOK MPs on side. This is exceptionally ironic to anyone remembering Mr. Samaras’ virulent attacks on PASOK in the 2012 election campaign: Xrissi Avgi has posted a useful excerpt here.

The PASOK that Mr. Samaras spent all 2011 and 2012 condemning as a party of special interests, corruption, and people whom he couldn’t possibly work with, is now the source of his political survival. PASOK polls between 4-6%.

The other source of despair is the fact that the faces in government represent political failures of a magnitude inconceivable in a normal democracy.

Mr. Venizelos becomes Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is difficult to describe how much “Benny” is a source of ridicule in Greece. Perhaps the only other people more derided are George Papandreou, Mr. Venizelos’ predecessor as head of PASOK, or Mr. Theodoros Pangalos, a previous foreign minister who’s gargantuan appetites are rivalled only by his florid prose. Mr. Venizelos turned the Eurozone finance ministers against him in 2011 and actively campaigned for George Papandreou’s downfall; we know that he will be entirely absorbed with domestic political events; we know that Greece needs a real foreign minister, not a placeholder.

Mr. Simos Kedikoglou, the Government Spokesperson, retains his seat. In any normal democracy, a government spokesman who managed to turn Europe and 65% of Greek public opinion against him through the illegal closure of the public broadcaster would have the good sense to resign and head home in abject failure. Not Mr. Kedikoglou. He retains his seat and perquisites, and will continue to lecture us about corporate restructurings that he knows nothing about.

Mr. Adonis Georgiades, a former deputy for LAOS who was absorbed into New Democracy in the recent electoral crisis, was nominated Minister of Public Health. Mr. Adonis is familiar for his rants on TeleAsty in which he would sell literature like a shoe salesman. To put it mildly, he has as much understanding of running the bankrupt Public Health ministry as I have of piloting the space shuttle. He will have to deal with thousands of highly qualified doctors and specialists, who are at the front line of the social collapse in Greece, for whom he has absolutely no empathy, and whom he will not be able to lead. He will have to continue reforms in the public procurement system, which is dominated by special interests and corruption. This is not a post where you learn on the job.

And in an inexplicable decision, Mr. Pantelis Kapsis, a journalist for the MEGA TV station owned by a major public works oligarch, has been appointed deputy minister for the restructuring of the public broadcaster. While I have nothing against Mr. Kapsis personally, it is simply inconceivable how a journalist working for a channel like MEGA, or indeed any private sector channel in Greece, can be appointed to restructure the public broadcaster.

This cabinet reshuffle exhibits all the signs of the political pathologies that affect Greece. Ministers have been appointed who have a record of political failure or of conflicts of interest in an attempt to consolidate internal political support. Its raison d’etre is internal political survival of two literally bankrupt political parties, who live in their own bubble and cannot possibly understand the real challenges of Greek society and the economy.

Its leaders, with few exceptions, are career politicians or from the tangled web of media and the public sector. Many only know politics: Mr. Samaras finished his Harvard degree in 1977, returned to Greece, and entered politics in an inherited seat in Messinia. Mr. Venizelos made his political bones defending Andreas Papandreou in the latter’s corruption trial in the Greek parliament. 

It fails to create any sign of hope or inspiration that this government has a plan to reverse the decline. It is marked by choices of desperation rather than the true political courage needed to handle the issues at hand.

Mr. Samaras bought the survival of his government and his current term as prime minister. Mr. Venizelos bought the survival of his political party, which is on the brink of collapse and expulsion from Parliament. Both share in the spoils of government for a few more months.

Few foreign observers, and certainly few voters, understand the real reasons why the vaunted “Greek reform programme” is failing. But anyone with a real understanding of who makes the decisions, and how these decisions are made, cannot fail to comprehend this. The choice of the present cabinet is a case in point. And the future of the country is preordained.


© Philip Ammerman, 2013


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